The CIA has relied on a secret division inside the company once known as Blackwater for its drone operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, private employees and government officials tell the New York Times. The for-profit company assembles and loads Hellfire missiles and quarter-ton bombs on secret CIA bases on both sides of the border. While Blackwater's involvement with drones was previously unknown, it has faced widespread criticism for killing civilians as part of its private security operations in Iraq.
Blackwater Select, the special division of the company now known as Xe Services, first inked a deal with the CIA in 2002, under which employees in Kabul learned how to load missiles. The company also gathers intelligence for the CIA on suspected militants, although officials say the agency is still in charge of choosing targets for actual strikes, adding that Blackwater has no "license to kill." Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Congress was not notified of the program, and "that is a violation of the law."