In a remarkable article published in The Nation, US journalist Jeremy Scahill alleges that the controversial private security company Blackwater (now known as Xe) is involved in a "secret war " in Pakistan, involving the planned assassination of suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives.
He says his main unnamed source "has worked on covert US military programs for years, including Afghanistan and Pakistan," and has direct knowledge of Blackwater's activities. If he is correct, his allegations will have a massive impact in Pakistan, which is already awash with rumours involving Blackwater.
The potential for blowback is enormous. Already many people in Pakistan are convinced that several recent car bombings, particularly in Peshawar in the North West Frontier, are the work of foreign intelligence agencies.
Two weeks ago, al-Qaeda's commander of military operations in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu Yazid, issued a statement on the subject:
"Today, everyone knows what Blackwater and the criminal security contractors are doing after they came to Pakistan with the support of the criminal, corrupt government and its intelligence and security apparatus. They are the ones who commit these heinous acts, then accuse the Mujahedeen of their crimes."
According to Scahill, who is the respected author of Blackwater: The rise of the World's most powerful Mercenary Army (Serpent's Tail, 2007), Blackwater is continuing to work in Pakistan, even though a covert CIA program was closed down in June 2009. Its operatives, almost all ex-special forces, are working with the US Joint Special Operations Command to plan actions that are then carried out by the US Army.
In addition, says Scahill, Blackwater has a contract with a Pakistani company called Kestral Logistics, which specializes in military logistical support, private security and intelligence consulting and is staffed with former high-ranking Pakistani army and government officials. He adds that his sources have told him that Blackwater staff often take part in Kestral actions, particularly along the border with Afghanistan where they are known to work with the Frontier Corps.
Blackwater staff also work on two drone programs in Pakistan - one for the CIA and another for the JSOC. A source in military intelligence told Scahill: "So when you see some of these hits, especially the ones with high civilian casualties, those are almost always JSOC strikes."
None of Scahill's sources are named, nor does he appear to have any physical evidence or photos for the claims he makes. Blackwater, the US Army, the US Ambassador to Pakistan have all denied the story. So far the Pakistani press has been subdued on the subject. But all that could change very quickly and the consequences for the military campaign against the Islamist militias in Pakistan will be immense.