CIA hired Blackwater in plan to kill militants: report

The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Virginia, August 14, 2008. REUTERS/Larry Downing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The CIA in 2004 hired contractors from the private security firm Blackwater USA as part of a secret program to track and assassinate senior al Qaeda figures, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Blackwater helped with planning, training and surveillance in a program on which the Central Intelligence Agency spent several million dollars without capturing or killing any militants, the newspaper reported, quoting former and current U.S. officials.

The Times said it was not clear whether the CIA had planned to use Blackwater executives to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives or limit the contractors to help with training and surveillance.

The North Carolina-based contractor, which recently changed its name to Xe Services, was enmeshed in controversy in Iraq in 2007 when Blackwater employees hired to guard U.S. diplomats were accused of using excessive force in a Baghdad shooting in which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed.

The CIA’s use of an outside company for a covert program prompted CIA Director Leon Panetta to inform Congress in June that the agency had withheld details of the program for seven years, the Times said.

The House of Representatives Intelligence Committee is investigating why lawmakers were never informed about the program, the report said.

Editing by John O’Callaghan