State Department axes guard firm for Kabul embassy

AP News
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Posted: Mar 17, 2011 9:21 PM

The State Department has fired the contractor it hired to guard the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, leaving protection of the key diplomatic outpost in the hands of another company the department has been trying to replace for more than a year.

On Thursday, the State Department said in a statement it ended its agreement for embassy security with EOD Technology of Lenoir City, Tenn., because the company was not going to be able to start work on May 1, as the contract required.

EOD Technology had won the $274 million award less than six months ago. The company was set to replace ArmorGroup North America. In late 2009, the State Department said it was cutting ties with ArmorGroup after ArmorGroup guards were caught engaging in lewd behavior and drinking excessively at their living quarters a few miles from the embassy.

An independent watchdog group documented lurid conditions at the camp, including threats and intimidation and scenes of guards and supervisors in various stages of nudity at parties flowing with alcohol. In at least one case, ArmorGroup supervisors brought prostitutes into the quarters where the guards live, a serious breach of security and discipline.

At least 10 ArmorGroup guards and managers were fired or resigned shortly after the allegations surfaced.

But ArmorGroup continued to handle security at the embassy while the search for a new contractor took place. The department said ArmorGroup will be extended for at least the next four months while it assesses options for replacing EOD Technology.

EOD Technology was one of eight security companies chosen by the State Department in September to compete for work under a contract potentially worth $10 billion for diplomatic security services in Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel. Under this umbrella arrangement, EOD Technology won the order to replace ArmorGroup at the embassy in Kabul.

Erik Quist, a spokesman for EOD Technology, said the terms of the contract prohibit the company from commenting on the State Department's termination decision.

On Monday, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asked the State Department inspector general to investigate the department's awarding of contracts for guard services at U.S. embassies.

McCaskill cited ArmorGroup's record at the embassy in Kabul.

She also pointed to an investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee into the Defense Department's use of private security contractors in Afghanistan. The inquiry, completed in October, said both EOD Technology and ArmorGroup had hired guards linked to the Taliban.

Both companies said they had been encouraged to hire local Afghans by U.S. military officials in Afghanistan and were never told of any problems.