Xe, the private contractor formerly known as Blackwater, is getting a new contract worth about $120 million to protect CIA facilities in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Although the contract may be new, the relationship isn't.
Protecting CIA teams and sites in Afghanistan is a job Blackwater/Xe has been doing since early 2002, when the Agency's Henry Crumpton led a successful push against the Taliban in the post-September 11 era. Crumpton's teams made it to Kabul so quickly that they didn't even have enough bodies to secure everything that needed securing, so amid a big push at Langley by former CIA Executive Director Buzzy Krongard, Blackwater got the deal.
That was how the relationship began. It hasn't changed much despite the incredible public relations lows the company has experienced, though the personal relationship between the company and the Agency hasn't been without its own ups and downs.
In December, Xe lost another significant contract with the CIA after the company's owner, Erik Prince, pulled a Gen. McChrystal with Vanity Fair. He boasted of his company's relationship with the Agency in an article that had some at Langley so unsettled, they not only canceled the contract, they made it clear that they thought Prince was living in a dream world.
But just a couple of weeks later, the sentiment changed when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, killing not only five officers but their two Xe security guards as well. It was obvious that whatever the office politics at home, Prince's men were taking the same risks, bringing an overdue sense of just how close and how risky the relationship was.
Today, the CIA still won't comment on whether it even does business with Xe, but it's a thinly veiled "no comment."
"While this agency does not, as a rule, comment on contractual relationships we may or may not have, we follow all applicable federal laws and regulations. We have a very careful process when it comes to procurement, and we take it seriously. We've also made it clear that personnel from Xe do not serve with CIA in any operational roles," spokesman George Little said.
The back story is that the Agency very much values the service it gets from Xe, a service it needs if it is going to continue its missions in places like Afghanistan.
Prince recently put his company up for sale, so this latest contract can't be a bad thing. Prince is now eager to prove to prospective buyers that what he has built over the past decade is worth nothing less than a small empire.
Suzanne Simons is the author of "Master of War: Blackwater USA's Erik Prince and the Business of War."