Afghanistan: Embassy Guards Accused of Unruly, Undisclipined Behavior

By Matthew Harwood

The ability of ArmorGroup North America (AGNA) private security guards to adequately and honorably protect the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, has once again been called into question by an independent watchdog organization, reports The Washington Post.

According to the Post's Walter Pincus, The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) began an investigation into AGNA, a subsidiary of Wackenhut Services, after 15 U.S./ex-pat guards contacted the group to report misconduct. The group discovered:

occasions when guards brought women believed to be prostitutes into Camp Sullivan and videotaped themselves drinking and partially undressed. It also outlined communications problems among the guards, many of whom don't speak English and have trouble understanding orders from their U.S. supervisors.

"The lewd and deviant behavior of approximately 30 supervisors and guards has resulted in complete distrust of leadership and a breakdown of the chain of command, compromising security," POGO said in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton outlining the security violations.

Guards that did not participate in the misconduct, feared retaliation, even termination, according to POGO's letter. "Others have reported that AGNA management has begun to conduct a witch hunt to identify employees who have provided information about this atmosphere to POGO," the letter stated.

But the list of wrongdoing did not stop at personal misconduct. POGO's letter also warned Clinton of harsh working conditions that diminished guards' effectiveness at the Kabul embassy—a situation company executives must have known about.  

Despite Wackenhut Vice President Sam Brinkley's sworn Senate testimony that "…the Kabul contract has been fully-staffed since January 2009…" the truth is that chronic understaffing of the guard force continues to be a major problem. And evidence suggests Mr. Brinkley knew that. Around March, according to numerous participants, he was confronted by some 50 guards at Camp Sullivan who complained to him directly about a severe, ongoing guard shortage. Then, in an April 2009 memo to a State Department official, U.S. Embassy Kabul guard force Commander Werner Ilic reported that guard shortages had caused chronic sleep deprivation among his men. He described a situation in which guards habitually face 14-hour-day work cycles extending for as many as eight weeks in a row, frequently alternating between day and night shifts. He concluded that "this ultimately diminishes the LGF's [Local Guard Force's] ability to provide security."

State's contract with AGNA states guards may not work longer than 12 hour days, according to POGO's letter to Clinton.

Things were so bad that the U.S./ex-pat guard turnover was 90 percent within the first six months of the AGNA contract, according to a State Department report quoted by the group. The turnover of U.S./ex-pat guards, however, may be as high as 100 percent annually, according to POGO sources.

In a letter yesterday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO),chair of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, urged the State Department's Patrick F. Kennedy, undersecretary for management, to review AGNA's contract performance, management, and oversight, noting that AGNA's ability to protect the embassy has been called into question before by State itself.

During a June hearing on Capitol Hill, "the Subcommittee reviewed internal State Department documents finding that AGNA's inadequate performance of the contract had placed the security of the Embassy 'in jeopardy,'" McCaskill wrote State's Kennedy.

Despite questionable performance, the State Department, with McCaskill's lukewarm approval, renewed AGNA's $180 million contract for another year. AGNA has provided security at the embassy since July 2007, according to The Wall Street Journal.

POGO recommends that State immediately enter into an agreement with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to provide military supervision over the embassy's private guardians. The group says such dismal contract performance by AGNA and oversight by State leaves the embassy and its staff vulnerable to insurgent and terrorist attacks. On August 15, a suicide bomber detonated himself outside NATO headquarters in Kabul, killing seven and wounding 91. According to the Associated Press, the Taliban claimed responsibility and said the U.S. Embassy 150 meters down the street was also the target.

As POGO stresses, the inability of State to watch over its contractors is notorious.

"Failed management of security contractors by the Department of State is not new, and since the 2007 Iraqi Mansour Square massacre involving five Blackwater personnel, the State Department has promised repeatedly to strengthen its oversight," the group's letter to Clinton states. "Yet, as in Iraq, the Department of State has utterly failed to properly manage another contractor, this time at the U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan."

For a CBS Evening News video report, which contains photos of the misconduct, click here.

UPDATE: MotherJones has a .pdf full of the infamous photos here. They are not pretty—viewer discretion is advised.

♦ Photo of guard at front gates of U.S. Embassy Kabul  by munir/Flickr

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