PTI, Blackwater pact terminated

URBANA – A pact between the University of Illinois Police Training Institute and a controversial military contractor was canceled by the university last week.

UI Chancellor Richard Herman, in a letter to Blackwater officials dated Aug. 15, notified them of immediate termination of the "memorandum of agreement."

Blackwater USA, a "high-profile security firm," has an estimated 1,000 employees and at least $800 million in government contracts, mostly in Iraq, according to The Associated Press.

Based on an internal review of how the agreement was reached, the UI determined it had been done "in a manner which was inconsistent with university policy," according to Herman's letter to Blackwater.

"The (memorandum of agreement) was entered into without the knowledge or consent of any campus official in the Police Training Institute's direct reporting line," he wrote. "These same officials were not consulted during the development of the agreement and were bypassed during the approval process," he said.

Beyond Police Training Institute Director Tom Dempsey, who signed the agreement in May, that line of command includes Institute of Aviation Director Tom Emanuel and Provost Linda Katehi. Neither administrator knew about the PTI's partnership with Blackwater, said UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

"When it became apparent that the appropriate protocol had not been followed, we needed to step back and look at the big picture and make sure this agreement was in the best interests of the university," Kaler said.

Herman asked Blackwater to "remove any reference to a partnership with the University of Illinois in all external communications."

He said any future negotiations about reinstatement of an agreement between Blackwater and the university will be done through the provost's office.

Dempsey, who is on leave from the institute, had said in communications and in a commentary for The News-Gazette that the agreement with Blackwater indicates the university and contractor would work together for five years, exchanging faculty, working with each other's students and conducting unspecified joint research.

The agreement was reached in May. In July, Dempsey was granted a leave of absence from the institute and has been working with Blackwater in Afghanistan. As of this morning, Dempsey was still a university employee, Kaler said.

Dempsey said the discussion between him and Blackwater about that Afghanistan project began long before the agreement between the Police Training Institute and the contractor was approved.

Kaler said it is not uncommon for the head of a university unit to sign off on an agreement with an outside firm, "but it has to go up through that person's chain of command," she said.

The May memorandum of understanding was signed by University of Illinois Comptroller Walter Knorr and Michele Thompson, secretary of the board of trustees. Both are university-level employees, and not campus-based.

"We're reviewing the process for forming such agreements to make sure all of them are at least known at the campus level," Kaler said.

Dempsey has said the memorandum of understanding and the project in which he has been working with Blackwater "are related to Blackwater's law enforcement training activities, not to their role in providing international security services."

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play a small role in assisting Afghan police in addressing the opium problem that plagues their nation and funds terrorist organizations that have ravaged the Muslim world and pose a horrific threat to Europe and the U.S.," he said previously.

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