Blackwater sneak silencers into Iraq?
By Aram Roston, Investigative producerm NBC News
WASHINGTON - Federal agents are investigating allegations that the Blackwater USA security firm illegally exported dozens of firearms sound suppressors — commonly known as silencers — to Iraq and other countries for use by company operatives, sources close to the investigation tell NBC News.
Investigators from various federal agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the State Department and the Commerce Department, are digging into the allegations that the company exported the silencers without getting necessary export approval, according to law enforcement sources, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity. The sources said the investigation is part of a broader examination of potential firearms and export violations.
Coincidentally, the company’s main responsibility in Iraq is protecting officials of the State Department, the agency that regulates exports of arms. The firm had more than $500 million in federal contracts in 2006.
Anne Tyrrell, a Blackwater spokeswoman, refused to comment on any specific allegations of the firearms investigation but said that “of course we would cooperate as we do in any investigation.”
The sources tell NBC News that Blackwater purchased the silencers legally from SWR Manufacturing, formerly of Georgia and now located in Pickens, S.C. SWR manufactures the devices for pistols, rifles and machine guns. The purchases took place over several years, the sources say.
Maarten Sengers, an expert on arms export compliance in Washington, who is not involved in the investigation, said the criminal penalties for exporting silencers without proper paperwork can be stiff — up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $1 million per count.
While silencers are rare in America because their possession is highly restricted, they are common props in movies and television programs, used by actors playing hit men or members of the special forces. The military uses them for covert action and nighttime tactical assaults where stealth and surprise are required, but experts say it is not clear why Blackwater guards would need them for missions such as personal protection of diplomats.