Watchdog group warns of security abuses at U.S. Embassy in Kabul

A government watchdog group claims that private contractors guarding the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, are posing a “significant threat” to security because their lewd behavior and hazing of subordinates demoralizes the already understaffed force.

The nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight (POGO) is calling on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to immediately assign U.S. military personnel to supervise the guards and replace the management of the current force.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sent on Tuesday, POGO documented complaints -- including accounts of lewd behavior -- about guards working for contractor ArmorGroup, North America. POGO concluded that the management of the security contract is “grossly deficient.”

As a result of POGO's investigation, Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillIranian attacks expose vulnerability of campaign email accounts Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest MORE (D-Mo.) called on the State Department to open an investigation into the performance and management of the security contract with ArmorGroup. McCaskill, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a leading voice on government contracting oversight, said the new evidence calls into question the company's ability to provide adequate security at a key facility.

ArmorGroup is a subsidiary of Wackenhut Services Inc., a large security contractor. The firm employs 450 guards to provide security at the Embassy in Kabul under a five-year, $189 million contract with the State Department. About
1,000 people work at that Embassy.

"Let me just say that these are very serious allegations, and we are treating them that way. As soon as we received the documents, they were turned over immediately to our Office of the Inspector General. Secretary Clinton has been apprised of the allegations in these documents and has directed the Department and the Office of the Inspector General to take appropriate action. The Secretary and the Department have made it clear that we will have zero tolerance for the type of conduct that is alleged in these documents," said State spokesman Ian Kelly at the daily briefing on Tuesday.

POGO’s revelations come at a sensitive time in the Afghanistan war where security is tenuous. Additionally, the U.S. public’s support for the war in Afghanistan has been sliding and President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaButtigieg tweeted support for 'Medicare for All' in 2018 Brent Budowsky: To Bush and Obama — speak out on Trump Graham on Syria: Trump appears 'hell-bent' on repeating Obama's mistakes in Iraq MORE will likely face growing calls for troop withdrawal from Democratic lawmakers.

POGO sent the letter to Clinton as a result of their own review. POGO initiated the investigation after nearly one-tenth of the U.S. and expatriate guards individually contacted the organization to express concerns about and provide evidence of “a pattern of blatant, longstanding violations of the security contract, and of a pervasive breakdown in the chain of command and guard force discipline and morale,” Danielle Brian, POGO’s executive director wrote in the letter to Clinton.

“This environment has resulted in chronic turnover by U.S./ex-pat guards,” Brian said.

Only 150 guards are Americans or from other English-speaking countries. POGO identified the rest as Gurkhas from northern India and Nepal who speak little or no English. POGO said that the language barrier prevented the guards from communicating in a crisis.

Additionally, POGO points out that the English-speaking guards are creating a Lord of the Flies environment in a reference to a 1954 novel by William Golding about a group of British schoolboys who were stranded on a desert island and failed to govern themselves amid chaos.

POGO cites an email from a guard describing scenes in which guards and supervisors are "peeing on people, eating potato chips out of [buttock] cracks, vodka shots out of [buttock] cracks (there is video of that one), broken doors after drnken [sic] brawls, threats and intimidation from those leaders participating in this activity…."

“Photograph after photograph shows guards -- including supervisors -- at parties in various stages of nudity, sometimes fondling each other. These parties take place just a few yards from the housing of other supervisors,” POGO added.

The State Department awarded the security contract to ArmorGroup in 2007 and since then has repeatedly warned the company that it was failing to meet contractual requirements. After its own inspection on March 2009, the State Department found at least 18 guards were absent from their posts because of negligent supervisors.

Nevertheless, the State Department agreed in June to extend the contract for another year.