'It's like an armed wing of the White House'

That's what journalist Jeremy Scahill said about North Carolina-based military security contractor Blackwater during an interview last night on MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, was commenting on new revelations that the State Department's initial report of last month's incident in which Blackwater guards were accused of gunning down Iraqi civilians was actually written by Darren Hanner -- a Blackwater contractor working in the embassy security detail.

An article that appeared yesterday in the online magazine Salon.com backed up Scahill's charge by detailing the Bush administration's extensive ties to Blackwater. They include Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince's generous donations ($300,000 between him and his wives) to Republican candidates and political action committees, Blackwater Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel Joseph Schmitz's former Bush-appointed position as the Defense Department's Inspector General, Blackwater Vice Chair J. Cofer Black's job as director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center at the time of the 9/11 attacks, Blackwater Vice President for Intelligence Rob Richer's former position as head of the CIA's Near East division and the man who in 2003 briefed President Bush on the growing Iraq insurgency, and Blackwater's former outside counsel Fred Fielding's current role as White House counsel. In addition, the company's current outside counsel is Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated Bill Clinton's relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, was on President Bush's short list to replace William Brennan on the Supreme Court and served as U.S. solicitor general under Bush's father.

Which renders rather ironic Republican charges that the congressional investigation into Blackwater's behavior in Iraq is "partisan."

BLOGGING BLACKWATER: If you're interested in following the growing Blackwater scandal in detail, you should add to your reading list "Blackwater Current," a new blog by Raleigh News & Observer investigative reporter Joe Neff. He has covered the company extensively since 2004, when his series "The Bridge" chronicled the death of four of the company's contractors in Fallujah.