In wake of the highly politicized Blackwater shooting as the House scurried to shove through legislation extending US criminal law to contractors in Iraq and other combat zones, it seems that someone realized last minute that the legislation threatened CIA activities in Iraq. (See "The Achilles' Heel of US War Efforts in Iraq.")
The New York Times slipped this pregnant comment into its larger story about the legislation:
Before the bill was passed, Democrats agreed to add language specifying that it was not intended to hamper intelligence efforts.
This is probably as close as we'll ever get to an admission that CIA contractors are involved in activities in Iraq that would be in violation of US criminal law.
Now it's the CIA's job to do whatever is necessary to accomplish its mission as long as it doesn't violate US laws. This can involve activities outside US territory that may be criminal under US law and may be criminal under local foreign laws. As distasteful as that might be to many, it really has to be this way for an espionage organization to function and such covert work really can preempt larger, more distasteful consequences.
The interesting twist now is because of its heavy reliance on contractors, corporations and corporate employees are involved in those criminal activities--or so the House is implying.
So what types of activities are contractors involved in in Iraq and Afghanistan that could be considered criminal if brought under US criminal law? Paramilitary operations-- covert actions that involve contract soldiers in offensive combat--are the first things that comes to mind. Then, of course, there would be issues of illegal detainment of civilians as well as the problems with the use of "special interrogation methods" by individuals directly contracted to the Agency (as in non-industrial green badgers.)
It does raise the question: Has intelligence outsourcing gone too far when we start to outsource activities that would be criminal under US law?
Did anyone in Congress ask what the hell corporations are doing on the US Government's behalf if intelligence contractors need to be exempt from US criminal laws in war zones? The House apparently didn't stop to question this, but the Senate still has a chance.