The State Department’s diplomatic security chief resigned Wednesday, marking the first departure of a government official with oversight responsibility for the administration’s troubled private security contractor program.
Richard J. Griffin, the assistant secretary of State for diplomatic security, did not give a reason for his resignation when he met with Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte. State Department spokesmen confirmed the departure, which is effective Nov. 1, but declined to elaborate on the reasons behind it.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “is grateful to Ambassador Griffin for his record of long exemplary service to the nation,” said Sean McCormack, the chief State Department spokesman. “He has distinguished himself during a 36-year career with the U.S. government, serving in some of the most sensitive and demanding posts.”
Griffin, whose federal law enforcement career began with the Secret Service in 1971, made no mention of the security contractor program controversy in a resignation letter to President Bush, saying only that he was going to “move on to new challenges.” A deputy, Gregory B. Starr, will fill his position on an interim basis.
The department’s private security force of more than 1,000 personnel in Iraq has drawn criticism for years, but complaints intensified after an incident Sept. 16 in which Blackwater USA contractors guarding a diplomatic convoy killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.
Rice has issued two sets of directives to revamp oversight of the program, the second coming Tuesday. The new rules will, among other things, put the guards under federal law when they are working abroad and will set new rules for their use of weapons.
The controversy has taken a toll on the administration. It has caused friction with the Iraqi government and further damaged the image of the U.S. contingent in Iraq among the population there. It has attracted wide coverage in news media in Arab countries, Europe and elsewhere, intensifying impressions that Americans favor the use of force.
The international furor erupted after last month’s Blackwater shooting, which an Iraqi investigation found to be unjustified.
In the aftermath of that shooting came revelations that other private guards had resorted to violence and faced no consequences for their actions. In one instance, a Blackwater employee killed a guard to Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi and was removed from the country with the help of the U.S. Embassy. That case remains under investigation.
Griffin, responsible for security arrangements for U.S. diplomats abroad, defended the system set up for Iraq and Afghanistan during testimony before a congressional committee Oct. 2.
He said the State Department contracted with private companies because it did not have enough personnel to staff U.S. needs in Iraq. If the agency decided to hire enough of its own agents, Griffin said, it would have to figure out what to do with them once the need for them in Iraq had ended.