Earlier today POGO sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlining concerns about the State Department's management of security at the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan. A new investigation has revealed an alarming deficiency in oversight and management by the State Department.
We initiated the investigation after being contacted by whistleblowers expressing their frustrations about the worsening situation at the embassy. Guards reported that personnel shortages, which have plagued the security efforts at the embassy in the past, led to sleep deprivation from 14 hour shifts and forcibly revoked leave. When they weren't on duty, some guards—and even supervisors—turned to lewd hazing rituals. Some of these antics occurred in the immediate vicinity of the supervisor's quarters on Camp Sullivan, the guards' base and some guards even reported retaliation against those that did not participate.
As stated in the letter, "Beyond basic decency standards, the situation at Camp Sullivan is clearly in violation of AGNA's contract with the State Department, which specifies, "Each contractor employee or subcontractor employee is expected to adhere to standards of conduct that reflect credit on themselves, their employer, and the United States Government." More broadly, the behavior is evidence of a complete breakdown of discipline and the chain of command among guards and their leadership, itself a significant security issue."
Unfortunately the personnel shortages are old news. In fact, the State Department formally advised AGNA that the contractor's deficiencies were endangering the performance of the contract in a July 2007 "cure notice." The State Department further admonished AGNA with a "Show Cause" letter in September 2008, and in March 2009, informed AGNA that it had "grave concerns" after an inspection found 18 guards were absent from their post due to "supervisory personnel negligence."
Yet in July of this year, after representatives from the State Department and from Wackenhut Services, Inc, (AGNA's parent company) testified that previously identified problems had been solved, the State Department renewed AGNA's contract for another year. However, interviews from guards, an April 2009 memo from Guard Force Commander Werner Ilic, and Wackenhut's move last month to bring in guards from nuclear facilities in Tennessee "to deal with personnel shortages," suggest that under-staffing has been and continues to be a persistent problem. Earlier this afternoon, Senator Claire McCaskill, whose Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight heard the testimony from Wackenhut and State Department representatives, tweeted that the testimony “appears to be misleading at best.” The Department of State has simply been unable to hold its security contractor to account.
Unfortunately, personnel shortages and lewd conduct aren't the only problems with this contractor. Communication difficulties between the English-speaking ex-pats and non-English speaking contract workers—who comprise almost two thirds of the guard force—jeopardize the execution of intricate operations. Guards have reported resorting to pantomime in order to communicate critical instructions.
Beyond that, one Afghan national working as a food service employee described a particularly harrowing encounter with a guard force supervisor. He alleges the supervisor grabbed his face and began verbally abusing him—hardly a diplomatic gesture coming from someone supervising the protection of American diplomats.
Clearly something is wrong here. A contractor has demonstrated a continued inability to meet performance standards and a government agency has failed to hold the contractor accountable. As a result, the safety and security of the 1,000 employees working and living at the embassy has been compromised. We felt this was an urgent issue and worked on the investigation around the clock in the last few weeks, so we'll be sure to keep you updated as the story develops. In the meantime, take a look at all the details in our letter.
-- Bryan Rahija