Contractors for Blackwater, now formally known as Xe (pronounced Zee) Services, assemble and load Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs onto the pilotless aircraft in secret bases in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, the Times reported. Although CIA employees fire the drones' weaponry from the agency's headquarters in Langley, Va., the Times reports this development reflects how much the agency "now depends on outside contractors to perform some of the agency's most important assignments."
"The actual pulling of a trigger in some ways is the easiest part, and the part that requires the least expertise," one government official told the Times. "It's everything that leads up to it that's the meat of the issue."
Current and former CIA employees told the Times that Blackwater's assignment of assembling bombs for the drones led to disputes between the company and the spy agency. If a Predator missed a target, CIA employees would sometimes blame Blackwater employees for the mistake, the Times reported.
"In one instance last year recounted by the employees, a 500-pound bomb dropped off a Predator before it hit the target, leading to a frantic search for the unexploded bomb in the remote Afghan-Pakistani border region," the Times reported. "It was eventually found about 100 yards from the original target."
Friday's story builds on the newspaper's article in Thursday's editions that the CIA hired Blackwater for a secret program to find and kill high-value targets in al Qaeda. The program did not lead to the deaths of any Qaeda operatives and CIA Director Leon Panetta ended it shortly after learning about its existence. After Thursday's article was published, the paper learned that Blackwater executives were not given a "license to kill" but were instead assigned to surveillance duties and to train for possible missions.