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Rice orders new security rules for embassy

By Matthew Lee
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered federal agents on Friday to ride with Blackwater USA escorts of U.S. diplomatic convoys in Baghdad to tighten oversight after a shooting in which private guards are accused of killing 13 Iraqi civilians.

She also ordered video cameras installed in Blackwater vehicles.

The steps will require the State Department to deploy dozens of additional in-house Diplomatic Security agents to accompany Blackwater guards and are the first in a series of moves Rice is expected to take to boost control of contractors the agency relies on to protect diplomats in Iraq.

They are aimed at “putting in place more robust assets to make sure that the management, reporting and accountability function works as best as it possibly can,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

The measures, which also include recording radio traffic between the embassy and diplomatic convoys and improving communications between those vehicles and U.S. military units in the vicinity, were implemented amid intense criticism of the department’s security practices in Iraq and Blackwater’s role.

They also come as Iraqis and U.S. lawmakers are clamoring for clarification of the now nebulous jurisdiction and authority under which the State Department’s private security guards work.

On Thursday, the House passed legislation that would place all private government contractors in Iraq under U.S. criminal statutes. The Bush administration has expressed concerns about the proposed amendments but has pledged to work with Congress on improvements before the Senate takes up the bill in coming weeks.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. David Price, D-N.C., said Friday that Rice’s move was welcome but overdue.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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