Two former Blackwater operatives were arrested by US federal agents on murder charges, stemming from their alleged involvement in the shooting deaths of two Afghan civilians in Kabul in May. They have been identified as Justin Cannon, 27, of Corpus Christi, Texas, and Christopher Drotleff, 29, of Virginia Beach, Virginia. They have been charged with "crimes including second-degree murder, attempted murder and firearms offenses while working as contractors for the U.S. Department of Defense in Afghanistan," according to the Justice Department. The thirteen-count indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia on Janurary 6 and unsealed today.

The indictment alleges that on May 5, 2009, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Cannon and Drotleff shot and killed two Afghanistan nationals and wounded a third. In a press release, the Justice Department said:

The indictment alleges that at the time of the shootings, Cannon and Drotleff were Department of Defense contractors employed by Paravant LLC, which is a subsidiary of Xe (formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide). According to the indictment, as contractors, Cannon and Drotleff provided training to the Afghan National Army for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the use and maintenance of weapons and weapons systems.

In May, reports emerged that four Blackwater/Xe operatives working for Paravant LLC were alleged to have fired on a civilian car they say they saw as a threat, killing at least one Afghan civilian. According to the Wall Street Journal‘s August Cole, "At least some of the men, who were former military personnel, had been allegedly drinking alcohol that evening, according to a person familiar with the incident. Off-duty contractors aren’t supposed to carry weapons or drink alcohol."

The US military said the incident took place in Kabul on May 5. "While stopped for the vehicle accident, the contractors were approached by a vehicle in a manner the contractors felt threatening," according to the military.

Now, there are many layers to this story, not the least of which is yet another allegation of Blackwater-affiliated personnel drinking and killing in a foreign war zone. (A drunken Blackwater operative allegedly killed a bodyguard to an Iraqi vice president on Christmas Eve 2006 inside Baghdad’s Green Zone).

What’s more, this represented the first public mention of the Blackwater/Xe subsidiary Paravant, but also the fact that its work was apparently buried in a subcontract with Raytheon, which in turn has a large US Army training contract in Afghanistan. "Raytheon’s use of Paravant is for a program called Warfighter Focus, a sweeping U.S. Army training effort valued at more than $11 billion over a 10-year period," reports the Wall Street Journal.

"Warfighter Focus" is carried out by a Raytheon program the company describes in its contract handbook as such [PDF]:

The Raytheon-led Warrior Training Alliance (WTA) team is comprised of over 65 subcontractors with one common mission: to deliver unmatched training support services that cost-effectively meet the U.S. Army’s requirement for total warfighter readiness. The WTA’s ability to provide a comprehensive range of integrated training services will assist the Army in transitioning to a more collaborative, consolidated and streamlined training environment.

Now, the "Warfighter Focus" contract in and of itself is very intriguing and worthy of further investigation. But it is also particularly interesting given that Blackwater is under multiple investigations (DoJ, Congress, IRS, ATF, etc.) and continues to operate in Afghanistan (in part) on a subcontract through a subsidiary working for a massive defense Goliath. This is how the whole contracting scam works, particularly for companies in trouble. They hide under layers of subcontracts and subsidiaries. Blackwater/Xe of course still holds overt contracts in Afghanistan as well.

In addition to Raytheon/Paravant part of the Kabul story, according to the WSJ:

Paravant has terminated contracts with the four men "for failure to comply with the terms of their contract," according to Xe spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell. "Contractual and or legal violations will not be tolerated," she said.

The contractors were ordered not to leave Afghanistan without permission of the Defense Department, she said, and the company said it is cooperating with authorities.

A US military spokesperson confirmed this, saying, "The contracting company is cooperating with us. We have asked them to keep the individuals in-country until the investigation is complete."