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Senate Investigates Blackwater Subsidiary

This story was written by CBS News' Faiza Virani

The Senate Armed Services Committee is investigating the private security firm Paravant LLC which provides contracted services to the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and Iraq. Paravant is a subsidiary of Xe, formerly known as Blackwater, owned by Erik D. Prince, president of The Prince Group.

Steven McClain and Justin Cannon, two former Paravant security personnel stationed in Afghanistan, were involved in a fatal shooting incident that left one Afghan civilian dead and two others wounded in Kabul on May 5, 2009.

In a letter obtained exclusively by CBS News dated June 18, Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, demanded Mr. Prince's cooperation in investigating the role of private security contractors and sub-contractors employed by his firm in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Senator has also requested specific documents concerning security contracts and weapons policies and practices as part of their inquiry.

The two contractors involved in the shooting were hired to help the U.S. Army train Afghan troops. The incident occurred in Kabul, Afghanistan as they were driving their interpreters back to a base when a car crashed into them. The vehicle that struck them did not turn away, instead made a u-turn and headed towards them again at which point the men, feeling threatened, opened fire at the approaching vehicle, killing one and wounding two others according to their lawyer Daniel J. Callahan.

The committee is conducting a broad investigation into private security contractors whilst specifically investigating the actions of Paravant and the May 5th incident. The committee will also be probing disciplinary action taken by Paravant for noncompliance with corporate policies.

Senator Levin's committee is demanding the release of documents regarding the company's screening and hiring process, rules allowing contract personnel to carry and transport weapons and ammunition, as well as their use of deadly force.

McClain and Cannon, the two former Paravant employees, said through their attorney Callahan that the company supplied them with AK-47s instructing them to carry them at all times even though the permit allowing these men to operate in Afghanistan prohibited the possession of arms.

The men further state that their questions about the use of weapons were ignored and told it was "above their pay grade" to be asking such questions. The incident remains under investigation by the US Army's Criminal Investigation Command.

Callahan told CBS News that Paravant has "intended to make scapegoats out of his clients" by alleging that they were intoxicated during this incident, and that Paravant had not supplied them with weapons for the duration of their operations in Afghanistan. His clients were not off duty or acting out on their own as they were transporting their interpreters, said Callahan.

Last year, a federal grand jury indicted five Blackwater security guards for the shooting death of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007. The Prince Group that owns the company Blackwater. subsequently lost their contract in Iraq and re-named their company Xe which currently operates in Afghanistan.

The Senate Armed Services Committee would not comment on the pending investigation.

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