NEW YORK - US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has hired contractors from a controversial private security firm for loading bombs and missiles on drones to hit Al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a job previously performed by the spy agency's workers, a leading American newspaper reported Friday. The job was assigned to Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, the company whose operations in Iraq had come under intense scrutiny for its brutal tactics. CIA earlier hired it for its secret (now abandoned) programme to eliminate top Al-Qaeda leaders. Contractors of Xe Services assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely-piloted Predator aircraft at hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a work which was previously performed by CIA employees, the Times said quoting government officials. The role of the company in the Predator programme highlights the degree to which the CIA now depends on outside contractors to perform some of the agency's most important assignments, the dispatch said. A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment on the Times' story. The New York Times reported Thursday that the agency hired Blackwater in 2004 as part of a secret programme to locate and assassinate top Al-Qaeda operatives. In interviews on Thursday, current and former government officials provided new details about Blackwater's association with the assassination programme, which began in 2004 not long after Porter Goss took over at the CIA. The officials said that the spy agency did not dispatch the Blackwater executives with a "licence to kill". Instead, it ordered the contractors to begin collecting information on the whereabouts of Al-Qaeda's leaders, carry out surveillance and train for possible missions. Any operation to capture or kill militants would have had to have been approved by the CIA director and presented to the White House before it was carried out, the officials said. The agency's current director, Leon Panetta, cancelled the programme and notified Congress of its existence in an emergency meeting in June. The extent of Blackwater's business dealings with the CIA has largely been hidden, but its public contract with the State Department to provide private security to American diplomats in Iraq has generated intense scrutiny and controversy. The company lost the job in Iraq this year, after Blackwater guards were involved in shootings in 2007 that left 17 Iraqis dead. It still has other, less prominent State Department work. Five former Blackwater guards have been indicted in federal court on charges related to the 2007 episode. A spokeswoman for Xe did not respond to a request for comment.