Lasers, Helmet Cams Ordered for U.S. Convoy Guards
ABCNews (2007-11-15) Brian Ross
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Media Link: http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/11/lasers-helmet-c.html
November 15, 2007
Brian Ross Reports:
The State Department plans to equip its motorcade security details in Iraq with lasers to "dazzle" suspect motorists and helmet cameras to record it all.
U.S. officials also say the State Department plans to double the number of its diplomatic security agents to 90 so that one of its agents can accompany every convoy guarded by Blackwater and other private security contractors.
Security experts say the lasers, emitting a green beam and already in use at some U.S. military checkpoints in Baghdad, overload the optic nerve but, if used from at least 10 feet away, will not cause any permanent eye damage.
Lasers designed to cause permanent blindness have been banned by international law since 1995.
The lasers being sent to Iraq, experts say, are intended only to dazzle or temporarily blind vehicle drivers and alert them to stop.
Lasergreen"I've had them tested on me, and while it is certainly uncomfortable, like a flashbulb going off in front of your face, there is no permanent damage whatsoever," said Tony Diebler, a former State Department security official who now works at Cohort, International, the company providing the lasers and helmet cameras to the State Department.
The lasers, with a pistol grip, are about the size of a three-battery flashlight. They sell for around $9,000 each.
Laser_dazzler The State Department has ordered 26 of the lasers for full field testing in Iraq.
"They are proving great so far, and State wants them like yesterday," Diebler said.
While there is some risk that a temporarily blinded driver might crash into another vehicle, that is considered by the State Department to be a better alternative than the deadly attacks that have killed hundreds of innocent civilians in Iraq.
The cameras attached to helmets will create a video record of each guard's line of sight which security experts say is better than the dashboard cameras placed in police cars in the United States.
"Most of the convoy attacks in Iraq come from the side, and a dashboard camera will never see that," said Diebler.
The new equipment comes as a result of orders from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to crack down on the killing of innocent civilians by security guards in Iraq.
On Sept. 16, 17 civilians were shot dead shot by Blackwater personnel guarding a U.S. diplomatic convoy. The New York Times reports that an initial FBI investigation has concluded that 14 of the deaths broke U.S. rules of engagement.
According to statements made by the Blackwater guards to State Department investigators, including a turret gunner named "Paul," it was the failure of the driver of a white passenger car to stop that triggered the shootings.
"I and others were yelling, and using hand signals for the car to stop and the driver looked directly at me and kept moving toward our motorcade," Paul said in the statement obtained by ABCNews.com.
"Fearing for my life and the lives of my teammates, I engaged the driver and stopped the threat," the Blackwater guard said.
Security experts say had he used a green laser, the incident might have been resolved with no or limited loss of life.
The helmet cameras, which record both audio and video, are advertised as, "Wherever pictures are worth a thousand words, digital video is PRICELESS."
As to the New York Times account of the FBI's preliminary findings, Blackwater's spokesperson said, "Blackwater supports stringent accountability for our industry. If official findings conclude that someone was complicit in wrongdoing, we will support holding that person accountable. However, the investigation remains underway and to the best of our understanding, the key people involved in the incident have yet to even speak with authorities."