A Feb. 24 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on a Blackwater unit called Paravant did little to resolve concerns raised by the committee in a six-month investigation of Paravant's contract and practices in Afghanistan.
Raytheon, through its Technical Services Co. training arm, hired Paravant under the $11.2 billion Warfighter FOCUS (Field Operations Customer Support) program to integrate all the U.S. Army's live, virtual and computer-model based training. Paravant was hired to train the Afghan National Army.
The Senate committee found Blackwater and Paravant broke the military's rules in obtaining weapons, used weapons recklessly and were ineffective in vetting people hired to work for Paravant. It also disclosed a Dec. 9, 2008, incident in which one Paravant employee shot another in the head while jumping on a moving vehicle during a training session, resulting in partial paralysis to the wounded employee. The committee also said the Army didn't have adequate oversight over the contract.
Several former and current employees of Paravant, Xe and Raytheon Technical Services Co. were assembled for the hearing, but answers were hard to pin down.
For example, Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., pressed witnesses on Paravant's history, pointing out that the company claimed it had "years" of experience in training when it applied in 2008 to be a subcontractor under the Warfighter FOCUS contract - even though Blackwater had only formed Paravant that year.
Fred Roitz of Xe responded that Blackwater created Paravant at Raytheon's request, because Raytheon wanted Blackwater's services for the Warfighter FOCUS program but didn't want to be tied to the Blackwater name.
Raytheon released the following statement after the four-hour hearing: "The contract for these services, including sub-contracting support, was addressed through a competitive bidding, evaluation and selection process that involved our customer. Paravant employees subsequently violated policies of their contract which led to our termination of the relationship for cause last year. Raytheon has been working closely with our customers to enhance controls, procedures and oversight of contractor and subcontractor personnel. We will continue to work with our customers to ensure that strong oversight supports the success of our training services programs."
Xe, the renamed and reorganized Blackwater, didn't return calls for comment.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., questioned why Raytheon was involved at all in the mission to train the Afghan military.
"What is Raytheon doing in regards to training the Afghan police or the Afghan military?" McCaskill said. "This is just a classic middleman that they're supposed to be managing, but not providing any personnel to do the work."
"Raytheon also was in charge of managing the subcontractor," responded Steven Ograyensek, contracting officer at the U.S. Army Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation. That office was in charge of overseeing the Warfighter FOCUS contract.
The committee's investigation also found that Paravant broke military rules when it took hundreds of weapons, including more than 500 AK47 rifles, from a U.S. facility known as Bunker 22 or 22 Bunkers. Those guns were intended exclusively for the Afghan National Police, Levin said.
Brian McCracken, a former Paravant vice president and now the Afghanistan country manager for Raytheon Technical Services, said Paravant employees got those weapons and were carrying them while he was still trying to get permission from the U.S. Army to do so.
McCracken said Paravant employees sometimes had to train at remote locations, off-base and without military protection, so they needed to arm themselves.
McCracken had written an e-mail at the time he was seeking permission to get those weapons, saying "I got sidearms for everyone. … We have not yet received formal permission from the Army to carry weapons yet, but I will take my chances. Pass the word."
At the hearing, McCracken said the Dec. 9, 2008, training, during which Paravant employee Sonny Stillitano was shot in the head, was Paravant's effort to train its employees in how to change vehicles or deal with a vehicle breakdown in an unprotected area.
"The training they were doing on Dec. 9 was the result of a difference in the reality of Afghanistan from what the government and what Paravant thought would be actually the case," McCracken said. "For example, we did not anticipate that the Paravant trainers were going to leave the base to conduct the training, but as soon as we got there, we found out that they had to leave at different times to go to different ranges and train, and to address that contingency, that's why we were doing that training on Dec. 9."
Other issues that were unclear at the end of the hearing included:
å Whether the Army knew Paravant was actually a part of Blackwater when working under the Warfighter FOCUS program.
å Why criminal history and poor military records for several men hired by Paravant didn't raise red flags in the Army.
å The corporate structure at Blackwater. "Are there any other corporations that have new names that are actually Blackwater, besides Xe and Paravant? Are there any others we should know about, so we can identify them for what they are?" McCaskill asked Roitz. Roitz mentioned Xe's current training unit, the U.S. Training Center, and said he would provide a complete outline of the company's structure to the committee.