Blackwater: Who Are These Guys?

Bob Orr is a correspondent for CBS News based in Washington.
To hear critics on Capitol Hill say it, "Blackwater" sounds like a four letter word. And the word is not "hero".

But, supporters say "hero" would be a fair description, and therein lies the rub.

There seems to be no middle ground when it comes to Blackwater, a private security contractor based in North Carolina.

To detractors, Blackwater guards are run-amok mercenaries who have found gold in the war zones of Iraq. Since 2003 taxpayers have paid Blackwater more than a billion dollars to protect diplomats and dignitaries. On top of that, Democrats are particularly annoyed that Blackwater's founder is a major Republican donor leading to whispers that no bid contracts are a sort of quid pro quo payback.

But, Blackwater is effective. No Blackwater client has ever been killed. And the fact is there aren't enough soldiers to do the jobs taken on by Blackwater and other security contractors.

Add to that Blackwater's intense training program and the fact that its employees are not amateurs – most come from elite military commando units, like Delta Force and Navy SEALS.

Still, U.S. officials are more than a little uneasy about last month's Blackwater shootout in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.

There are now five separate investigations into Blackwater, yet most people in America are still pondering the question, "Who are these guys?"

We'll look for answers tonight on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.