Company losing security contract for Kabul embassy

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2009 5:31 PM

The State Department is cutting ties with the security contractor protecting the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan following an investigation of allegations that guards engaged in lewd behavior and sexual misconduct at their living quarters.

The arrangement with ArmorGroup North America expires next summer and will not be renewed, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday. Work will begin immediately on finding another company to guard the embassy in Kabul, one of the country's most important diplomatic outposts, he said.

Toner said ArmorGroup's history of failing to meet the terms of the $189 million contract was also a factor in the decision.

Susan Pitcher, a spokeswoman for Wackenhut Services, ArmorGroup's parent company, referred all questions about the decision to terminate the contract to the State Department. ArmorGroup, based in McLean, Va., was awarded Kabul embassy security work in March 2007. Wackenhut acquired ArmorGroup in May 2008.

In early September, an independent watchdog group wrote a 10-page letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton describing "Lord of the Flies" conditions that included threats and intimidation and scenes of ArmorGroup guards and supervisors in various stages of nudity at parties flowing with alcohol.

The Lord of the Flies 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.

The independent Project on Government Oversight in Washington contended the situation led to a breakdown in morale and leadership that compromised security at the embassy in Kabul.

In at least one case, supervisors brought prostitutes into Camp Sullivan _ the offsite location where the ArmorGroup guards live _ a serious breach of security and discipline, the oversight group said. In other instances, members of the guard force drew Afghans into activities forbidden by Muslims, such as drinking alcoholic beverages.

The State Department investigated, sending a team from its diplomatic security, management and contracting offices to Kabul to examine the situation.

Several ArmorGroup guards and managers were fired or resigned shortly after the allegations surfaced.

On Tuesday, the Project on Government Oversight applauded the decision to end the contract with ArmorGroup, but questioned whether security duties in a combat zone should be handled by the private sector or government employees.

"The State Department seems to be holding this embassy security contractor accountable," said Danielle Brian, the group's executive director. "But State will need a real culture change before it can provide adequate oversight of these complex and challenging contracts."

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On the Net:

U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan: http://kabul.usembassy.gov/