Fri, Sep 04, 2009 - Page 7 News List

US may fire private security contractors at Kabul embassy


A wide-ranging US State Department inquiry into allegations of lewd behavior and sexual misconduct among the private security contractors guarding the US embassy in Afghanistan could lead to the termination of the company’s US$189 million contract, a department spokesman said on Wednesday.

The allegations made by an independent watchdog group describe Lord of the Flies conditions that include threats and intimidation and scenes of guards and supervisors in various stages of nudity at parties flowing with alcohol.

In at least one case, supervisors brought prostitutes into the quarters where the guards live, a serious breach of security and discipline, the Project on Government Oversight said. In other instances, members of the guard force have drawn Afghans into activities forbidden by Muslims, such as drinking alcoholic beverages.

“We expect to see prompt and effective action taken as a result of these investigations,” the spokesman, Ian Kelly, told reporters.

Other possible actions include rebidding the contract or replacing individual guards and supervisors employed by the contractor, ArmorGroup North America, he said.

The State Department inspector general is leading the investigation of ArmorGroup. US officials in Kabul also are conducting a review, Kelly said. In addition, a team from the State Department’s diplomatic security, management and contracting offices will go to Kabul to examine the situation.

ArmorGroup and the State Department came under fire on Tuesday after the watchdog group said that the nearly 450 ArmorGroup guards live and work in an oppressive environment in which they are subjected to hazing and other inappropriate behavior by supervisors.

The situation has led to a breakdown in morale and leadership that compromises security at the embassy where nearly 1,000 US diplomats, staff and Afghan nationals work, the nonprofit group said.

With insurgent attacks in Afghanistan increasing, any lapses in security put the diplomatic mission there at risk, the group said in a 10-page letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that details the results of its investigation of the guard force.

The State Department has been aware of ArmorGroup’s failings, the letter said, but has failed to correct the problems. Instead, it has renewed the contract twice, with the most recent installment good through July next year.

Kelly acknowledged that ArmorGroup has been notified eight times of poor performance since the original contract was awarded in March 2007.

Wackenhut Services, ArmorGroup North America’s parent company, has not responded to requests for comment.

Danielle Brian, the Project on Government Oversight’s executive director, said on Wednesday the investigation of ArmorGroup should be handled by Congress, not the State Department.

“I do not have faith that the State Department will do a good job because they are equal partners in the problem,” she said.

“They’ve let this happen.”

Brian also said that she was given a copy of an e-mail that an ArmorGroup manager sent to guards telling them not to talk to government inspectors unless a supervisor is present. Such a restriction will make it difficult to do a thorough investigation, she said.

The Project on Government Oversight’s findings are based on interviews with ArmorGroup guards, documents, photographs and e-mails that it said depict a <> environment. The reference is to the 1954 novel by William Golding about a group of British schoolboys who are stranded on a desert island and try, but fail, to govern themselves in a chaotic setting.

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