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ArmorGroup (Wackenhut AKA Group 4)
July 8, 2011 POGO
Private security contractor ArmorGroup North America Inc. (AGNA) agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle whistleblower allegations that it violated procurement rules that put the security of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan at risk. AGNA's parent company said the settlement was made solely "to avoid costly and disruptive litigation—and that there has been no finding or admission of liability." This is the same company whose employees are depicted in lewd pictures POGO made available in fall 2009—which demonstrated a serious breakdown in discipline among the security personnel defending the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian called it a 'Lord of the Flies' environment. Former AGNA director of operations James Gordon was the whistleblower who filed the lawsuit—he will receive $1.35 million from the $7.5 million AGNA has agreed to pay. According to a Department of Justice (DOJ) press release, these are the whistleblower allegations that were resolved by the settlement: •"AGNA submitted false claims for payment on a State Department contract to provide armed guard services at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan"; •"[I]n 2007 and 2008, AGNA guards violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) by visiting brothels in Kabul, and that AGNA’s management knew about the guards’ activities"; •"AGNA misrepresented the prior work experience of 38 third country national guards it had hired to guard the Embassy"; and •"AGNA failed to comply with certain Foreign Ownership, Control and Influence mitigation requirements on the embassy contract, and on a separate contract to provide guard services at a Naval Support Facility in Bahrain." Gordon’s lawsuit was filed in September 2009. Nearly a year and a half later, DOJ joined Gordon’s whistleblower lawsuit on April 29, 2011. Slightly more than two months later, AGNA settled. According to DOJ statistics, whistleblower lawsuits (or qui tam lawsuits) that allow insiders to sue on behalf of the federal government have a much higher success rate when the government intervenes and joins the whistleblower, known as a relator, in their lawsuit (or parts of their lawsuit). In 2009, Gordon stated that he filed his lawsuit “to hold ArmorGroup accountable for the blatant disregard of its obligations to ensure the safety and security of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. In an industry where good people are required to face extreme risk on a daily basis it is essential that those companies who disregard the rules be removed as they not only endanger their own staff but also endanger the mission, all in order to increase profit.” On September 14, 2009, POGO’s Executive Director Danielle Brian provided testimony on the breakdown of discipline among many of AGNA’s employees in Kabul before the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Shortly after the Commission hearing, Brian was contacted by Samuel Brinkley, Wackenhut Services, Inc. (WSI)’s Vice President of Homeland and International Security Services, who offered to work with POGO on behalf of WSI and AGNA to identify and remedy mistreatment of victims of this hazing, retaliation against some of the whistleblowers who had come to POGO, and other matters raised in POGO’s disclosures. WSI is AGNA’s parent company. During the intervening months, Brinkley and Brian had many discussions regarding the fair and appropriate treatment for POGO’s whistleblowers and others not involved in the wrongdoing. As a result, POGO was pleased that WSI/AGNA resolved the employment concerns of those five personnel at issue. WSI issued a statement yesterday as well in response to the DOJ press release announcing the settlement. WSI disputed the DOJ’s assertion that there was a violation of the False Claims Act, that it did not have an anti-trafficking policy in place, and that it violated rules regarding third country nationals, and foreign mitigation requirements. It also said “the sole individual confirmed to have frequented prostitutes was fired by AGNA in normal course when his conduct became known.” WSI noted that the period of AGNA’s alleged behavior predated WSI’s acquisition of AGNA. Regarding the violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, Gordon’s allegations are more serious than they sound in the DOJ press release. Last year, the Washington Post/Center for Public Integrity wrote about Gordon’s case in the context of a perceived lack of U.S. enforcement regarding alleged sex trafficking by U.S. contractors and subcontractors: In Afghanistan, evidence of trafficking came to light when 90 Chinese women were freed after brothel raids in 2006 and 2007. The women told the International Organization on Migration that they had been taken to Afghanistan for sexual exploitation, according to a 2008 report. Nigina Mamadjonova, head of IOM's counter-human trafficking unit in Afghanistan, said the women alleged in interviews that their clients were mostly Western men. In late 2007, officials at ArmorGroup, which provides U.S. Embassy security in Kabul, learned that some employees frequented brothels that were disguised as Chinese restaurants and that the employees might be engaged in sex trafficking. A company whistleblower has alleged in an ongoing lawsuit that the firm withheld the information from the U.S. government. James Gordon, then an ArmorGroup supervisor, alleged that a manager "boasted openly about owning prostitutes in Kabul" and that a company trainee boasted that he hoped to make some "real money" in brothels and planned to buy a woman for $20,000. The settlement is a victory for accountability, but ultimately may be unsatisfying for critics of the government's less-than-robust oversight of contractors. Can we really expect other contractors to see this settlement as a wake-up call? The State Department fell asleep at the switch with AGNA and still has yet to prove that it's serious about contract oversight and enforcement of trafficking in persons regulations.

October 8, 2010 CBS News
U.S. reliance on private security in Afghanistan that is poorly monitored and often results in the hiring of Afghan warlords is profiting the Taliban and could endanger coalition troops, according to a Senate report. Military officials warn, however, that ending the practice of hiring local guards could worsen the security situation. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee which issued the report, said Thursday that he is worried the U.S. is unknowingly fostering the growth of Taliban-linked militias and posing a threat to U.S. and coalition troops at a time when Kabul is struggling to recruit its own soldiers and police officers. The investigation follows a separate congressional inquiry in June that concluded trucking contractors pay tens of millions of dollars a year to local warlords for convoy protection. "Almost all are Afghans. Almost all are armed," Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said of the army of young men working under U.S. contracts. State Dept. Awarding Contractors Up to $10B -- "These contractors threaten the security of our troops and risk the success of our mission," he told reporters. "There is significant evidence that some security contractors even work against our coalition forces, creating the very threat that they are hired to combat." "We need to shut off the spigot of U.S. dollars flowing into the pockets of warlords and power brokers who act contrary to our interests and contribute to the corruption that weakens the support of the Afghan people for their government," he added. A well placed source in the Afghan government told CBS News' Fazul Rahim that the senate report "is what we have been saying for the past couple of years. This report confirms our suspicions." The Defense Department doesn't necessarily disagree but warns that firing the estimated 26,000 private security personnel operating in Afghanistan in the near future isn't practical. This summer, U.S. forces in Afghanistan pledged to increase their oversight of security contractors and set up two task forces to look into allegations of misconduct and to track the money spent, particularly among lower-level subcontractors. The Defense Contract Management Agency has increased the number of auditors and support staff in the region by some 300 percent since 2007. And in September, Gen. David Petraeus, the top war commander in Afghanistan, directed his staff to consider the impact that contract spending has on military operations. The military says providing young Afghan men with employment can prevent them from joining the ranks of Taliban fighters. And bringing in foreign workers to do jobs Afghans can do is likely to foster resentment, they say. Also, contract security forces fill an immediate need at a time when U.S. forces are focused on operations, commanders say. "As the security environment in Afghanistan improves, our need for (private security contractors) will diminish," Petraeus told the Senate panel in July. "But in the meantime, we will use legal, licensed and controlled (companies) to accomplish appropriate missions." Levin says he isn't suggesting that the U.S. stop using private security contractors altogether. But, he adds, the U.S. must reduce the number of local security guards and improve the vetting process of new hires if there's any hope of reversing a trend that he says damages the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. His report represents the broadest look at Defense Department security contracts so far, with a review of 125 of these agreements between 2007 and 2009. The panel's report highlights two cases in which security contractors ArmorGroup and EOD Technology relied on personnel linked to the Taliban. Last week, EOD Technology was one of eight security companies hired by the State Department under a $10 billion contract to provide protection for diplomats. A statement released by EOD Technology said the Lenoir City, Tenn.-based company had been encouraged to hire local Afghans and that it provided the names of its employees to the military for screening. The company said the military has never made it aware of any problems with its handling of the contract. In the case of ArmorGroup, the Senate panel says the company repeatedly relied on warlords to find local guards, including the uncle of a known Taliban commander. The uncle, nicknamed "Mr. White" by ArmorGroup after a character in the violent movie "Reservoir Dogs," was eventually killed after a U.S. raid that uncovered a cache of weapons, including anti-tank land mines. ArmorGroup, based in McLean, Va., lost a separate contract this year protecting the U.S. Embassy in Kabul after allegations surfaced that guards engaged in lewd behavior and sexual misconduct at their living quarters. Susan Pitcher, a spokeswoman for Wackenhut Services, ArmorGroup's parent company, said the company only engaged workers from local villages upon the "recommendation and encouragement" of U.S. special operations troops. Pitcher said that ArmorGroup stayed in "close contact" with the military personnel "to ensure that the company was constantly acting in harmony with, and in support of, U.S. military interests and desires." In August, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that private security contractors would have to cease operations by the end of the year. The workers, he said, would have to either join the government security forces or stop work because they were undermining Afghanistan's police and army and contributing to corruption.

August 27, 2010 Yahoo
Judge James Cacheris of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has denied Defendants ArmorGroup North America ("AGNA"), ArmorGroup International, Wackenhut Services, Inc., and Cornelius Medley's motions to dismiss whistleblower James Gordon's lawsuit brought under the False Claims Act. On September 9, 2009, Mr. Gordon, former Director of Operations of AGNA, filed a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit under the False Claims Act in United States District Court for the District of Columbia, charging that ArmorGroup management retaliated against him for whistleblowing, internally and to the United States Department of State ("DoS"), about illegalities committed by ArmorGroup in the performance of AGNA's contracts with the United States to provide security services at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan and at the U.S. Naval base in Bahrain. The Complaint charges that during Mr. Gordon's seven-month tenure as Director of Operations, he investigated, attempted to stop, and reported to DoS a myriad of serious violations committed by ArmorGroup, including: •Severely understaffing the guard force necessary to protect the U.S. Embassy; •Allowing AGNA managers and employees to frequent brothels notorious for housing trafficked women in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act; •Endangering the safety of the guard force during transport to and from the Embassy by attempting to substitute company-owned subpar, refurbished vehicles from Iraq rather than purchasing armored escort vehicles as promised to DoS; •Knowingly using funds to procure cheap counterfeit goods from a company in Lebanon owned by the wife of AGNA's Logistics Manager; and •Engaging in practices to maximize profit from the contract with reckless disregard for the safety and security of the guard force, the U.S. Embassy, and its personnel. In his Memorandum Opinion (August 27, 2010), Judge Cacheris noted that "Plaintiff alleges and Defendants offer no facts to dispute that Defendants ... began to try to constructively discharge [Mr. Gordon] by 'making [his] working conditions intolerable.'" Judge Cacheris further noted that "Plaintiff alleges, and Defendants have not offered any evidence refuting the fact, that [Defendant] Medley excluded Plaintiff from management meetings, shunned him, and relegated him to a position of persona non grata in the office" and that "Medley made clear to Plaintiff by his behavior, and to other staff members by his direct boasts, that his priority was to force Gordon to quit." In denying Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Judge Cacheris concluded that "there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding the continued nature and duration of the allegedly illegal acts Plaintiff was requested and required to participate in." The parties will now proceed into the discovery phase of the litigation. According to Debra S. Katz, counsel for Mr. Gordon, "this is an important victory for conscientious employees, like Mr. Gordon, who blow the whistle on fraudulent practices by defense contractors and wind up then paying the ultimate price. The court's decision today makes clear that such employees can bring federal claims under the False Claims Act to obtain redress."

August 18, 2010 Government Executive
It will be "very challenging" to comply with an edict Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued this week to remove all private security contractors from Afghanistan within the next four months, according to Pentagon and State Department officials. "Obviously that is a very aggressive timeline and one which I think our forces and commanders as well as the State Department and ambassador will be working with the government of Afghanistan to achieve," Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters on Tuesday. About 20,000 armed security contractors work for Defense, State and the U.S. Agency for International Development in Afghanistan, guarding supply convoys, key personnel, checkpoints and installations. Thousands more work for media outlets, private corporations or nongovernmental organizations. But Karzai said the companies still operate with impunity and with little oversight and regulation. He also argued the presence of private security contractors undermines the efforts of Afghanistan's security forces. Karzai expects Afghanistan to assume control of all security functions nationwide by 2014. Whitman noted that while the United States shares a common goal with Karzai to eliminate the need for private security contractors, "we also recognize that Afghanistan presents a daunting security challenge." According to Defense Department figures, there were 16,733 private security contractors in Afghanistan as of the end of March -- a 415 percent increase from the 3,000 who were in the county 15 months earlier. Many of the contractors are Afghan nationals, who would have options for staying on. The State Department, which has more than 1,000 private security contractors on its payroll in Afghanistan, also suggested that Karzai's time frame might be overly ambitious. "We continue to support the Afghan government's intent to properly regulate the activities of private security companies in Afghanistan," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. "There are questions of implementation, however."

August 17, 2010 Reuters
Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a decree on Tuesday setting a deadline of four months to disband private security firms to avoid the misuse of weapons which had caused "horrific and tragic incidents." The decree said the order to disband the companies, which employ up to 40,000 people working mainly for Western enterprises in Afghanistan, was being issued "to prevent irregularities" and the misuse of weapons and other military equipment. "I am signing the dissolution of all local and foreign security companies within four months," said the decree, issued by the presidential palace. The decree includes an exemption for firms whose guards work inside compounds used by foreign embassies, even though Karzai's office said last week there would be no exceptions. Karzai has long called for the disbanding of such companies, which compete for contracts worth billions of dollars, and said last week that time was running out for them. The push to scrap the firms is linked to Karzai's ambitious 2014 timetable for Afghan forces to take over all security responsibility from foreign forces, who presently number almost 150,000 troops. Private security companies, which are not accountable to the Afghan government, have long been an irritant for Afghans and for U.S. and NATO forces in the country after a series of scandals. The U.S. military also employs some of them and the Pentagon said last week it was in talks with Karzai's government to address its concerns.

April 27, 2010 RTTNews
An Afghan court has jailed a British manager of a firm providing security to the British embassy in Kabul on graft charges. Bill Shaw, serving for British security firm Group 4 Securicor, was found guilty of corruption by an anti-corruption court partly funded by British government, reports said Tuesday. He was sentenced to a two-year jail term, and fined $25,000. His lawyers said they were planning to appeal the verdict in a higher court. During trial, the defendant admitted that he had paid money to get two armored cars impounded by Afghan authorities under the belief that it was an official release payment. The prosecution case was that Shaw struck a deal with one Eidi Mohammad to secure the release of the vehicles, confiscated by Afghanistan's National Directorate over licensing irregularities, after agreeing to pay $25,000. However, Shaw denied this. Shaw, who was arrested on 3 March, will shortly be moved to the notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison located outside the capital Kabul. Shaw served in the British army for 28 years and was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire). Reports say Shaw's case is being used by Afghan authorities to show the world that foreign nationals were responsible for most of the corruption in the country.

December 8, 2009 Reuters
The State Department will not renew the contract of a security company embroiled in a scandal involving the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, where guards were accused of drunken conduct and sexual hazing. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Tuesday Virginia-based ArmorGroup would not have its contract renewed when it expires in June, although it will receive a six-month extension to allow the contract to be put up for new bids. Toner said officials had reviewed the contract and "concurred that the next option year should not be exercised and that work begin immediately to compete a new contract." He said the review included both recent misconduct allegations against ArmorGroup personnel and the company's "history of contract compliance deficiencies." This week a report by the non-partisan Government Accounting Office identified a number of shortcomings in the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security including staffing shortage and increased reliance on contractors in high-risk posts. The Kabul embassy scandal broke in September, when a watchdog group accused ArmorGroup of jeopardizing security at the embassy by understaffing the facility and ignoring lewd, drunken conduct and sexual hazing by some guards -- and provided graphic photos as evidence. ArmorGroup North America, now owned by Florida-based Wackenhut Services, was also hit by a federal whistle-blower lawsuit that said it had ignored brothel visits by guards and other misconduct because of what a lawyer said was a "myopic preoccupation with profit" in its five-year, $187 million contract with the State Department. State Department officials said the safety of embassy staff was never in jeopardy. But they subsequently said 12 embassy guards had been removed or resigned, ArmorGroup's entire senior Kabul management replaced and alcohol banned at the group's camp. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered a thorough review of how contractors are used. The GAO report noted that worldwide, the U.S. diplomatic security budget had grown to $1.8 billion in 2008 from just $200 million in 1998, when truck bomb attacks on U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed more than 300 people including 12 Americans. The bureau's workforce has also doubled over the same period but is failing to keep pace with rising security threats including those faced in Iraq and Afghanistan, it said. "Staffing shortages in domestic offices and other operational challenges -- such as inadequate facilities, language deficiencies, experience gaps, and balancing security needs with State's diplomatic mission -- further tax its ability to implement all of its missions," the report said. The report urged the State Department to develop a strategic plan to directly address the rising demands of diplomatic security including increased staffing.

September 18, 2009 AP
A top executive of the private security contractor hired to protect the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan was informed in July 2008 of alleged illegal and immoral conduct by guards, attorneys for a whistleblower suing the company said Friday. The claim contradicts the sworn testimony of Samuel Brinkley, a vice president for Wackenhut Services, the owner of ArmorGroup North America. Brinkley told the Commission on Wartime Contracting under oath on Monday that he and other corporate officials outside of Afghanistan didn't know until a few weeks ago of problems that reportedly included lurid parties and ArmorGroup employees frequenting brothels in Kabul. But in a 10-page letter to the commission, the attorneys say their client, James Gordon, told Brinkley during a meeting on July 15, 2008, of alleged guard misconduct. The meeting took place in Brinkley's office in Arlington, Va., Gordon said in a separate e-mail through the lawyers. Gordon was ArmorGroup's director of operations until February 2008. He says he was forced out of the job after trying to get the company to fix a long list of shortcomings with the $189 million embassy security contract that the State Department awarded ArmorGroup in March 2007. He filed a lawsuit earlier this month in federal court claiming the company retaliated against him for telling the department about the deficiencies. Brinkley and Wackenhut did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a previous statement on the lawsuit, a Wackenhut spokeswoman called Gordon's claims baseless and said he voluntarily resigned from the company. Clark Irwin, a spokesman for the wartime contracting commission, said the congressionally mandated panel is reviewing the letter. At the commission's Sept. 14 hearing on ArmorGroup's performance, Brinkley portrayed himself and other company executives as being blindsided by the misconduct of a small number of employees. "I am not here to defend the indefensible," Brinkley said. "Certain of our personnel behaved very badly." During a series of heated exchanges, commissioners pressed Brinkley to explain why he didn't tell the State Department of reports that guards were behaving inappropriately, potentially putting security of a key U.S. diplomatic outpost at risk. Brinkley said ArmorGroup managers in Afghanistan only told him about an Aug. 11 incident involving nine employees who got drunk at a bar near their living quarters. Those workers were counseled by the on-site manager and a temporary ban on alcohol was imposed. He said the State Department was informed of this incident on Aug. 26. Brinkley said he wasn't aware of the scope and duration of the misconduct until Sept. 1 when a watchdog group released a report with photos showing guards and supervisors in various stages of nudity at parties flowing with alcohol. The watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight in Washington, also said guards were subjected to abuse and hazing by supervisors who created a hostile work environment. The letter from Gordon's attorneys says they are concerned Brinkley's testimony did not provide the commission with a "full and accurate understanding of many of the events in question."

September 14, 2009 Government Executive
The State Department should terminate ArmorGroup North America's contract for security services at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, witnesses and panelists said during a Commission on Wartime Contracting hearing on Monday. The recent photographs and report from the Project on Government Oversight detailing alleged lewd, drunken behavior by guards at the embassy just describe the latest and most egregious violation by ArmorGroup, witnesses told the panel. State Department Undersecretary of Management Patrick Kennedy testified that the contract has required "extensive oversight and management." Since awarding the contract to ArmorGroup on March 12, 2007, State has issued seven deficiency notices addressing 25 deficiencies, one cure notice and one show-cause notice. Each notice demanded separate correction action plans to resolve contractual issues and several involved serious allegations, including that the contractor had deceived the government in its contract proposal. Despite these problems, State has not terminated the contract with ArmorGroup and has, in fact, exercised an extension of the contract period. State officials said they are awaiting the results of an ongoing investigation into the contractor's conduct at the embassy. Commissioner Clark Kent Ervin pressed Kennedy to pledge State would terminate the contract if the probe validates the allegations made against the contract employees. While Kennedy was hesitant to speculate on a hypothetical situation, he said he could imagine an outcome of the investigation that would lead the agency to terminate the contract. "We're seeing a serious case being made for termination," he said. William Moser, deputy assistant secretary of State for logistics management, told the commission a public hearing was not the proper forum to talk about future contract actions. Regardless, he said the department is discussing potential alternatives and approaching the reevaluation of the contract "with a great deal of seriousness." Danielle Brian, executive director of POGO, said the organization's investigation shows State officials were notified of serious issues relating to the ArmorGroup contract repeatedly, and took limited action. "For the two years of this contract, State's response to whistleblowers' sustained complaints and to its own finding of severe noncompliance consisted mainly of written reprimands and the renewal of ArmorGroup's contract," Brian said. "Simply documenting a problem or even levying a fine is not effective oversight when those same problems continue to occur." Brian said State has been "stubbornly defensive" in not recognizing its own failures, and how those failures have caused misconduct and potential lapses in security. While POGO strongly believes the contract should be canceled and ArmorGroup -- or its parent company, Wackenhut -- should be debarred from doing business with the government, that will not prevent future problems, Brian said. To ensure proper conduct by contractors overseas, State must shorten the rotations of its regional security officers, perform more frequent audits and independent verification of contractor reports of compliance, and prioritize accountability, she said. "This cultural shift will be aided by canceling contracts when the contractor consistently underperforms -- which will have the added benefit of acting as a deterrent to future contractors -- and by disciplining the State Department officials who are responsible for the failed oversight of the ArmorGroup contract," Brian said. Commissioner Linda Gustitus said State already lost authority with industry by not terminating its contract with Blackwater Worldwide in the wake of the Nissor Square shooting incident in Iraq. "That helped to send a message to other contractors that you can do a lot and not have you contract terminated," Gustitus said. Several commissioners joined Brian in urging Kennedy to hold accountable the State employees responsible for managing Armor Group by firing them, withholding bonuses or taking some other disciplinary action.

September 14, 2009 Wayne Madsen Report
At a September 10 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, two former managers for ArmorGroup North America (AGNA), headquartered in McLean, Virginia and a subsidiary of ArmorGroup International (AGI), revealed a litany of contract fraud and abuse charges against AGNA and AGI and provided further details of sexual deviancy among AGNA security guards in Kabul tasked with protecting the U.S. embassy. ArmorGroup is now owned by Wackenhut Services, Inc., headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. The two former employees are suing AGNA, AGI, Wackenhut, and Corporation Service Company for wrongful termination, false claims, and conspiracy. John Gorman, a retired Marine Corps veteran who was the camp manager at the security guard force’s Camp Sullivan, blew the whistle on contract non-performance, security pitfalls, and sexual deviancy, and was placed under virtual house arrest in June 2007 by AGNA’s top manager in Kabul, Michael O’Connell, and flown out of the country. Gorman was terminated and confined for some 24 hours, along with two other AGNA managers, James Sauer, a retired Marine sergeant major and Pete Martino, a retired Marine colonel, who filed complaints to both AGNA and the Regional Security Office (RSO) for the U.S. embassy in Kabul, also Marine Corps veterans. Because they told the RSO they feared for their personal safety after bringing the charges against AGNA, he offered them the security of his apartment on the embassy compound, which they turned down only to later have their cell phones and weapons confiscated by AGNA and being confined before their flight out of the country. Gorman said no one at AGNA “ever mentioned or indicated a concern for the actual security at the embassy -- the greatest and only concerns were the profit margin and the bottom line.” Gorman said the project manager for the security contract, Sauer, a man with 35 years of experience as a 30-year career Marine with private security contractor experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, was “ignored, second guessed, and rejected.” Sauer had vehemently objected to allowing security personnel to be deployed to Kabul who had engaged in “lewd and deviant behavior” during their subcontractor training in Texas. After Gorman, Sauer, and Martino made their complaints known to McConnell, the corporate executive replied that ArmorGroup was a publicly traded company and could, therefore, not hire more people “because he had a responsibility to the shareholders.” The effect was the hiring of clearly unqualified personnel for the security guard force. Gorman said that there were people hired as guards who had “no DD214s, driver’s licenses, passports,” including one person who had been fired from a previous security project for pulling a pistol on another employee while drunk. AGNA, according to Gorman, covered up the security contract failures because the firm was “to assume the $187 million a year security contract for the American embassy in Kabul in less than two weeks and they were bidding on the more lucrative $500 million contract for the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. James Gordon, a New Zealand citizen and New Zealand Army veteran who is married to an American, worked for ArmorGroup Iraq as the operations manager, a subsidiary of AGI, also spoke about corporate malfeasance involving AGNA. He later became the business development director for AGNA headquarters in McLean. In 2007, Gordon took over as operations director for the Kabul embassy security contract and attempted to bring the contract into compliance with State Department requirements. Eventually, Gordon was forced out of the company because instead of correcting contract violations the firm’s only goal was to “maximize profits.” Gordon said among AGNA security personnel were unqualified personnel, some of whom had serious criminal records. Some guard recruits had engaged in “disgusting behavior” during their initial training at AGI’s subsidiary’s training facility, International Training Inc. (ITI) of Pearsall, Texas. Sauer, Martino, and Gorman had received reports that some of the AGNA recruits, while undergoing pre-deployment in Texas, had engaged in “lewd, aberrant, and sexually deviant behavior, including sexual hazing, urination on one another and equipment, bullying, ‘mooning,’” exposing themselves, excessive drinking, and other conduct making themselves unfit for service on the contract. The AGNA employees who were later forced out of the company attempted to ensure that the trainees in Texas never arrived in Kabul. Several email exchanges (“e-pong”) show they tried to block the sexual deviants from duty in Kabul. AGNA also misrepresented ethnic Nepalese Gurkha farmers hired as security guards for the Kabul embassy job as Gurkha military veterans of the British and Indian armies. In fact. the Gurkha farmers hired from Nepal and northern India were not proficient in English as required under the State Department contract. In fact, some could speak no English. The language test had never been administered to the Gurkha recruits. When some Gurkha guards walked off their jobs in May 2007 because of poor wages and treatment, Carol Ruart, AGI’s human resources director in London, ordered AGNA management in Kabul to “lock [the Gurkhas] in their rooms until they agree to work for less.” Gordon also stated that AGNA never invested in secure vehicles to transport embassy guards between the embassy and other locations. AGNA used broken down vehicles called “white coffins.” After the State Department released funds to AGNA to buy secure vehicles, the firm never bought the vehicles but transferred the money to AGI in London. AGNA also hired a “rogue” South African program manager for the embassy contract in Kabul, according to Gordon. DuPlessis replaced Sauer. Jimmy Lemmon replaced Martino as deputy program manager. During the tenure of the South African, Nick duPlessis, ammunition went missing from Camp Sullivan where the guards were bivouacked and illegal weapons were stored at the facility. Moreover, duPlessis did not possess a security clearance to receive classified briefings, a requirement for the program manager position. In addition, Gordon stated that the AGNA logistics manager, Sean Garcia, used contract funds to purchase counterfeit North Face and Altama jackets and boots for the security guards from his wife’s company in Lebanon, Trends General Trading and Marketing LLC of Beirut. Gordon said, “the cheap knock-offs could never keep the men warm during the cold winters in Afghanistan.” After Gordon notified the State Department about the contract breach, the order to remove him was ignored and the State Department continues to own sub-par counterfeit material. Gordon sent an email dated September 3, 2007 to duPlessis and his staff in Kabul. Gordon also said that the AGNA armorer in Kabul, responsible for maintaining all the weapons, had to be “forcibly removed” from a brothel in Kabul. Many of the prostitutes working in Kabul, according to Gordon, are young Chinese girls who were taken against their will to Kabul for sexual exploitation. When Gordon ordered the armorer’s immediate termination, he discovered that the AGNA medic, Neville Montefiore, and duPlessis, the program manager, had also frequented the brothels with the armorer. Gordon also discovered that there had been an outbreak of sexually-transmitted diseases among the AGNA guards in 2007 and this was never reported to the State Department as required by the contract. Prostitutes also frequently visited Camp Sullivan. Gordon also discovered that the guard force routinely visited brothels in Kabul and Montefiore’s replacement discovered the improper storage of regulated narcotics at Camp Sullivan’s medical facility, including morphine. “You can rest assured that there is no hiding of information from the DoS [Department of State]. Anyone who thinks that they can get away with this will probably end up in a Federal Penitentiary. It is our duty to report on all aspects of the contract performance and we are required to be transparent and honest in our dealings. Personally I wouldn’t accept anything else.” Gordon’s plans to visit Kabul to conduct an investigation were immediately shut down by ArmorGroup’s parent office in London. Gordon said it is contrary to U.S. law for a foreign company to direct or influence any activities on a classified contract. Moreover, the British parent conducted their own investigation, which resulted in a three-page whitewash. Gordon was denied access to all information about AGI London’s investigation. After the whitewash, Gordon received a report that an AGNA trainee wanted to be hired on as a security guard at the embassy in Kabul because he knew someone “who owned prostitutes there.” The trainee boasted that he could purchase a girl for $20,000 and earn a handsome profit each month. The trainee, according to Gordon, had previously worked in Kabul under duPlessis. Neither AGNA nor the State Department conducted a follow-up investigation of the violations of the U.S. Trafficking in Victims Protection Act by AGNA employees. AGNA responded to Gordon’s warnings by blaming him for all the contract’s failures and he was forced to leave the firm on February 29, 2008. After Wackenhut Services Inc. bought ArmorGroup, after Gordon left the company, he met with Sam Brinkley, the vice president of Wackenhut, to discuss the contract problems. Brinkley promised to remove duPlessis and investigate all the charges of misconduct. On June 10, 2009, Gordon was present during hearings held by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Gordon said that Brinkley and the State Department testified to McCaskill’s subcommittee on contracting oversight that AGNA was “fully compliant” on the security contract for the embassy in Kabul. Brinkley told the subcommittee that he “was proud” of the way the company had been managing the embassy security contract. Gordon said the situation at Camp Sullivan had worsened and the U.S. Embassy was facing a grave security threat. McCaskill and ranking Republican member Susan Collins (R-ME) never heard testimony from any of the whistleblowers on AGNA’s poor security record in Kabul. The only witnesses heard were Brinkley and William Moser, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Logistics Management. Brinkley, in addition to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, has responsibility for the security contract for the U.S. Naval Support Activity in Bahrain, which, according to ex-AGNA sources, may be using untrained Gurkha farmers from the Indian subcontinent as crack veterans of the British and Indian armies. The Gorman/Gordon lawsuit states that on October 10, 2007, the AGNA security force in Kabul was involved in a number of serious incidents, including: detaining a group of Afghan civilians and involuntarily transporting them to the U.S. embassy; verbally and physically engaging in an altercation with Afghan Ministry of Interior policemen and handcuffing the policemen; confronting an Afghan general and several Ministry of Interior policemen; refusing an order from the embassy RSO to withdraw from a checkpoint to defuse a potentially explosive situation. The statements of the two ex-AGNA employees reveal a culture of depravity and unprofessional behavior that Gordon stated still exists to this very day in Kabul.

September 14, 2009 AP
A member of a federal commission investigating wartime spending said Monday that photos showing private security guards in various stages of nudity at drunken parties may be as damaging to U.S. interests in Afghanistan as images of detainee mistreatment at Abu Ghraib were in Iraq. Dov Zakheim, a former Pentagon comptroller, made the comment at a hearing Monday held by the Commission on Wartime Contracting on allegations of lewd behavior and sexual misconduct by employees of ArmorGroup North America, the company hired to protect the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Zakheim said the photos are circulating heavily on the Internet and give Muslims in Afghanistan a negative image of the United States. Patrick Kennedy, the State Department's management chief, acknowledged the department should have been paying closer attention to the activities of the ArmorGroup guards at their living quarters near the embassy. The private security contractor hired to protect the embassy said Monday it erred by not immediately telling the State Department about an alcohol-related incident involving its guards that proved far more serious than company officials first believed. "I am not here to defend the indefensible," said Samuel Brinkley, vice president of Wackenhut Services, the company that owns the contractor, ArmorGroup North America. A manager for ArmorGroup counseled nine guards after they got drunk at a bar near their living quarters in Kabul on August 10. But after photos surfaced showing the guards had been at a party where ArmorGroup employees engaged in lewd and inappropriate behavior, they realized they made a mistake by not alerting U.S. officials. Photos showed guards and supervisors in various stages of nudity at parties flowing with alcohol. Brinkley said the manager's response, which included a temporary ban on alcohol, seemed adequate at the time. "In retrospect, we were wrong in not notifying the State Department," Brinkley said in testimony before the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting. Kennedy, under secretary of state for management, told the commission the State Department is very concerned about ArmorGroup's delays in reporting its knowledge of any misconduct by its employees. The State Department has been sharply criticized for its management and oversight of the security contract at one of the country's most important diplomatic outposts. In addition to the allegations of misconduct, other problems have included a shortage of guards and inferior equipment. As the department's top management officer, Kennedy said he takes full responsibility for having failed to prevent the problems that reportedly ranged from out-of-control parties to Armor Group supervisors frequenting brothels in Kabul. The State Department has launched an investigation into ArmorGroup's handling of the $189 million contract embassy security contract. Kennedy told the commission that the misconduct "dishonored" the State Department in Afghanistan, where "the success of U.S. objectives depends on the cultural sensitivity of all mission personnel, including employees under contract." But he and other State Department officials said no decision will be made on whether to terminate the contract with ArmorGroup until the investigation is complete. Members of the commission pressed Kennedy to be more aggressive, saying the evidence already available is enough to warrant firing ArmorGroup, which was awarded the contract to protect the embassy in March 2007. "To me, it's just totally out of control and it's been going on for a long time," said Michael Thibault, co-chairman of the commission. Commissioner Clark Ervin asked Kennedy to pledge to terminate the contract if the investigation proves all the allegations prove to be true. Kennedy refused to commit, saying the inquiry needs to run its course. However, Kennedy added, "We are seeing a very, very serious case being made for termination."

September 13, 2009 Washington Post
In 2005, the State Department hired a Northern Virginia company to provide security for the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. Diplomats quickly became concerned about whether the new guards, who barely spoke English, could protect such a sensitive site. "They had serious problems," recalled Ronald E. Neumann, who was ambassador at the time. The department then brought in another security contractor, ArmorGroup North America. But the difficulties didn't cease. In recent days, evidence of ArmorGroup's failings has burst into public view -- photos depicting its guards in semi-naked hazing rituals and official documents showing persistent staff shortages. Harold W. Geisel, the acting inspector general of the State Department, told Congress last week that his investigators are checking for possible criminal conduct by ArmorGroup, and a congressional hearing is scheduled for Monday. Lawmakers and watchdog groups are questioning how the department could have continued to employ a company that, in addition to tolerating bullying and understaffing, failed to ensure that its guards had proper security clearances and sufficient equipment -- or that they spoke English. The criticism is particularly intense because the State Department had promised to improve oversight after a 2007 shooting incident in Iraq involving bodyguards from security contractor Blackwater that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. "State's management of these contracts has been self-evidentially abysmal," said Peter W. Singer, an expert on government contracting at the Brookings Institution. ArmorGroup's efforts to guard the Kabul embassy were troubled from the start, according to congressional hearings, internal State Department documents and interviews. The McLean-based company submitted "an unreasonably low price" in 2007 for the contract, said Samuel Brinkley, an official with Wackenhut Services, the firm's parent company, at a congressional hearing in June. Former ArmorGroup supervisors have said in interviews that the company slashed guard staffing so it could squeak out a profit. State Department officials have expressed outrage about the lewd behavior shown in the photos. Still, they defend their selection of ArmorGroup, saying they are legally required to award such contracts to the lowest qualified bidder and noting that ArmorGroup was well-regarded. They also insist that the embassy was never endangered by the guard problems -- even though internal department documents say it was. "The fact you find something is wrong means something is wrong. But you find it," the department's undersecretary for management, Patrick F. Kennedy, said in an interview. He emphasized that many of the guards' failings emerged in documents written by department officials. "There was oversight present," he said. The troubles at the Kabul embassy raise questions about how authorities will manage what is expected to be a surge in the number of contract guards at U.S. facilities in Iraq as the American military presence declines. The scandal has also given new impetus to a debate over whether too many government wartime jobs are being outsourced. "The State Department should consider whether the security for an embassy in a combat zone is an inherently governmental function, and therefore not subject to contracting out," Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this month. Brian's group released the photos of what it called near-weekly sessions of hazing and sexual humiliation of ArmorGroup guards at their camp. The State Department has for years used local contract guards to secure the perimeters of its embassies, while generally keeping a modest Marine contingent for interior access. But in Iraq and Afghanistan, the department decided not to use local guards because of vetting concerns, officials say. Instead, as the military withdrew forces from around those embassies in recent years, the department turned to contractors such as ArmorGroup. But the department, which suffers from a shortage of contracting staff, has had a rocky history of managing such guard contracts. Each of its three contracts in Kabul has come under fire. The first was awarded to McLean-based Global Strategies, to replace a Marine combat force withdrawing from the U.S. Embassy in March 2005. The department justified the $6-million-a-month sole-source contract by saying it had received late notification of the Marines' departure. But the inspector general found that the Defense Department had given six months' official notice, and scolded the State Department for poor planning. By July 2005, the State Department had signed a contract with MVM of Ashburn, cutting its guard costs to less than $2 million a month, according to the inspector general's report. But MVM could not provide enough guards, partly because it was paying much less than its predecessor, according to Neumann. And, he said, the guards spoke so little English that they could not understand instructions. "We went back to the State Department and said, 'These people are unacceptable,' " Neumann said. State canceled MVM's contract and kept on the Global guards temporarily. MVM's chief executive, Dario O. Marquez, did not return a call seeking comment but told the Wall Street Journal last year that the State Department did not give him enough time to fix the problems. Neumann said the department was handicapped in selecting guard companies because of regulations stipulating that the contract go to a qualified U.S. firm that offers the lowest bid. "People low-bid, and then they're not competent," he said. Finally, in March 2007, the department turned to ArmorGroup. The firm, which also guarded the British Embassy in Kabul, was one of only two bidders deemed technically qualified by the department's acquisition and security specialists. Its price was about $3 million a month, officials say. "ArmorGroup was not a small, undercapitalized, underfunded, fly-by-night organization," Kennedy said. "They put forth a proposal that met every requirement." But within weeks of the company starting work, the State Department sent ArmorGroup a warning that its deficiencies -- including shortages of guards and armored vehicles -- were so serious that "the security of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is in jeopardy," according to the House Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. State Department officials issued eight more warnings to the company over the next two years, including one last September threatening to terminate the contract. Despite the problems, the department stuck with ArmorGroup, agreeing this summer to extend its contract for a year. State Department officials have said that the company appeared to be making progress and that changing firms would be disruptive. A spokeswoman for Wackenhut, which took over ArmorGroup North America last year, declined to comment. In a lawsuit filed last week, former ArmorGroup supervisor James Gordon accuses the company not only of failing to properly staff the embassy but also of lying to the State Department about its capabilities. The operation "was a complete shambles," he said.

September 12, 2009 New York Times
When a security guard at the United States Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, was leaving for breakfast Monday morning, he froze at the sight of a crude poster of a rat hanging on his door. “Warning!” the poster said in stark, black letters. “Rats can cost you your job and your family.” The guard was a whistle-blower who had told of security lapses and lewd, drunken bacchanals by fellow workers, sparking an outcry and enraging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Now he wonders whether he should have kept his mouth shut. “Threats are still running rampant here,” he said in a telephone conversation from Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “So even though it looks like State may finally turn things around, no one’s ready to celebrate yet.” Such skepticism may be warranted. A review of two years of e-mail messages, letters and memos reveals that the State Department had long known of the serious problems with ArmorGroup, the contractor chosen to protect its embassy. The complaints went beyond the lurid pranks that made headlines, the documents show, and included serious understaffing, bullying by management, petty corruption and abusive work conditions. In fact, the deficiencies became so severe that they threatened the security of the compound, the documents show, and State Department officials withheld payments to ArmorGroup as a way to compel it to comply with the terms of its agreement. On a few occasions, government officials warned the company that if it did not correct the most egregious problems it would lose the five-year, $189 million deal. Yet both times the contract came up for renewal, in 2008 and 2009, the State Department opted to extend it, officials confirmed. The troubles with the ArmorGroup contract, and the State Department’s frustrated dealings with the company over two years and through two administrations, illustrate how the government has become dependent on the private security companies that work in war zones, and has struggled to manage companies that themselves are sometimes loosely run and do not always play by the government’s rules. With a stretched military, the government relies on the security companies themselves to vet, train, and discipline the guards, all at the lowest cost. “It’s expensive for the State Department to withdraw a contract from one company, rebid the project and award it to a new one,” said Janet Goldstein, a Washington lawyer who represents one of the ArmorGroup whistleblowers. “So businesses know that once they get a contract, State may ding them around a little bit, but it’s not going to fire them.” The perils of this reliance were most graphically illustrated in Iraq in 2007, when security guards from another contractor, Blackwater, were involved in shootings that left 17 civilians dead on a Baghdad street. But interviews and documents show that the ArmorGroup affair, in its mundane, unsavory details, offers perhaps a more representative look inside the troubled relationship between contractors and the government in war zones. State Department officials acknowledge they had a litany of complaints about the company, none of which, they insist, compromised the security of the embassy. But they profess to being deeply embarrassed by reports of parties where security guards were photographed naked, fondling and urinating on each other. “I’ve been doing this for 37 years; I’m proud of what I do,” said Patrick F. Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management who oversees outside contractors. But, he added, “This is humiliating.” Mr. Kennedy, however, defended the State Department’s overall handling of the contract. The frequent letters of complaint the government sent to ArmorGroup, he said, were evidence that the department was keeping close tabs on the company. The “greatest majority” of the failures cited in the letters were addressed, he said. Part of the problem, officials said, was that the guards are housed in a complex six miles from the embassy, Camp Sullivan, with little oversight by State Department officials. Susan Pitcher, a spokeswoman for Wackenhut Services, the American subsidiary of the Danish company that owns ArmorGroup, referred questions to the State Department, saying only that it was cooperating with the government’s investigation. On Monday, the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan will hold a hearing to examine the State Department’s oversight of the contract. Christopher Shays, a former congressman and co-chairman of the commission, said there was “a serious failure on the part of the State Department in being unable to compel the contractor to fulfill its commitment.” The disclosures, which were originally made by a nonprofit organization, Project on Government Oversight, deeply rattled the State Department. At a staff meeting following the release of the group’s report, senior officials said, Mrs. Clinton vented her anger about the lurid pictures. Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired Army general who became President Obama’s ambassador to Afghanistan last May, was livid, an official said, because he had never been briefed about the problems. Despite their unease with contractors, officials acknowledged the department had no choice but to keep using them. “In situations where there is a surge of intense security requirements, it is a real challenge,” said Jacob J. Lew, the deputy secretary of state for management and resources. “We cannot reduce the security presence.” The State Department was not in a buyer’s market when it looked for a company to protect its embassy in Kabul. It picked ArmorGroup in March 2007, after its previous choice, MVM, proved unable to marshal the necessary personnel or equipment, officials said. Of the eight companies that bid for the contract the second time around, only two were deemed technically capable. ArmorGroup was the cheapest. The company’s most recent contract extension was granted in June this year, after a Senate hearing in which one of its executives, Samuel Brinkley, a Wackenhut vice president, said in sworn testimony that his company was in full compliance with the terms of its contract, and a State Department official, William H. Moser, a deputy assistant secretary of state, also under oath, said he was satisfied with the company’s performance. In interviews, ArmorGroup whistleblowers said they felt betrayed by the testimony. By many measures, they said, things were worse, not better. After largely uneventful company barbecues morphed into what have been described as scenes from “The Lord of the Flies,” at least a dozen of the men started a document trail of their own, sending e-mail messages and photographs to the Project on Government Oversight. According to interviews and those documents, from July 2007 to April 2009, the State Department issued ArmorGroup at least nine warnings, nearly one every other month, about contract violations that ranged from mundane concerns about the company’s ability to keep accurate personnel logs, to more critical concerns about corruption among company managers and the hardships faced by sleep-deprived, underpaid guards — the majority of them Gurkhas from Nepal — who could not understand simple commands in English. While the Gurkhas were largely the source of the language problems, the lewd hazing rituals were largely the activity of the native English speakers, a mix of Americans, South Africans, New Zealanders and Australians. In 2008, after ArmorGroup was acquired by the Danish company, G4S, Wackenhut informed the State Department it was taking control of the Kabul contract, and promised to fix any problems. Government officials agreed to give the new owners a chance. According to their own correspondence, their optimism seemed to dim fairly quickly. On Aug. 22, 2008, the State Department wrote to ArmorGroup to express concerns that staffing shortages were so severe the company might not be able to provide security after a situation with mass casualties. On Sept. 21, 2008, the State Department deducted $2.4 million in payments from ArmorGroup, warning that its failure to provide a sufficient number of guards “gravely endangers the performance of guard services.” In March 2009, the department again advised ArmorGroup that it had “grave concerns” about staffing shortages, noting that inspectors on a recent tour found 18 guardposts left uncovered. In April, it denied ArmorGroup’s request for a third waiver to the requirement that it teach its foreign guards English. A month later, without much explanation, ArmorGroup told the State Department that deficiencies relating to language and staffing had been resolved. And a month after that, a senior State Department official told the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight that “despite contractual deficiencies, the performance by ArmorGroup North America has been and is sound.” “I sat in the audience that day, and shook my head in disbelief,” said James Gordon, a former ArmorGroup executive who has filed a whistleblower’s lawsuit against the company. He says he was forced out for complaining about the problems. “I knew that conditions at Camp Sullivan were deteriorating, that the contract continued to be understaffed, that the conditions in Kabul were getting more dangerous, and that the U.S. Embassy was facing grave threats.”

September 10, 2009 New York Times
Two former employees of a private contractor hired to provide security at the United States Embassy in Afghanistan charged that State Department officials were aware as early as 2007 that guards and supervisors were involved in lewd conduct. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, one of the former employees, James Gordon, a native of New Zealand who served as director of operations at the contractor, ArmorGroup North America, charged that he had spoken numerous times with State Department officials about significant problems that threatened security at the embassy. Among other things, he said that ArmorGroup hired guards who could not speak English and had no security experience; that the company employed fewer guards than needed and worked them for longer hours than at other embassies to cut costs; and that it allowed managers and employers to hire prostitutes. “Their goal was to perform the contract as cheaply as possible,” said Mr. Gordon, speaking by telephone from Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, where he is now employed by another private security contractor which he declined to name. “Their goal was to do everything they could to prevent the State Department from discovering their multiple contract violations and operational shortcomings. Their goal was to provide a fig leaf of security at the embassy, and to pray to God that nobody got killed.” Mr. Gordon and another former supervisor, John Gorman, said they warned State Department officials in Kabul several times that ArmorGroup was plagued with problems and that it was determined to cover them up. They said that as a result of their efforts to correct the problems and to make the government aware of the issues, ArmorGroup forced them to leave their jobs. As evidence to support his assertions, Mr. Gorman provided a packet of memos and e-mail messages that he said he and two other former employees gave State Department officials in June 2007, including a three-page memo in which he outlined an array of contract violations. Among them, he wrote: “The training program run for new hires has been plagued with hazing and intimidation of students by students. This included physical threats and perversions.” Senior State Department officials said they were unaware that guards had engaged in that kind of activity at their living quarters at a base in Kabul. The officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak about a continuing investigation. The charges echoed those in a report released last week by an independent group, the Project on Government Oversight, which accused the guards and supervisors of deviant behavior. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ordered an investigation, and about 16 guards and supervisors were fired or have resigned. ArmorGroup North America, based in McLean, Va., was acquired in 2008 by a Danish security company, G4S, and its American subsidiary, Wackenhut Services Inc. In a written statement, Wackenhut described Mr. Gordon’s allegations as “overstated, ill-founded, not based on any personal knowledge or otherwise lacking in legal merit.”

September 10, 2009 AP
A former manager for the security contractor protecting the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan says the company lowballed its bid for the work and then failed to hire enough guards or fix faulty equipment. The allegations come after an independent watchdog group said last week that ArmorGroup guards were subjected to abuse and hazing by supervisors who created a climate of fear and intimidation. On Thursday, James Gordon, former director of operations at ArmorGroup North America, alleged the company bid too low in order to win the contract and then cut corners to keep profits up. Gordon says he was fired for reporting the problems. He also claims ArmorGroup withheld from Congress information about employees who went to brothels. Wackenhut Services, ArmorGroup's parent company, had no immediate comment.

September 8, 2009 Government Executive
A contract employee in Afghanistan claims he was forced to resign or risk being fired outright in retaliation for his role in exposing alleged lewd and drunken behavior of security guards at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Terry Pearson worked for 16 months as an operations supervisor for RA International, a Dubai-based food service provider at Camp Sullivan, the off-site base that was home to the ArmorGroup North America security guards alleged to have participated in the incidents reported last week by the Washington watchdog group the Project on Government Oversight. A native of Great Britain, Pearson said he was disgusted by the behavior of some guards, including one episode in which an apparently drunken supervisor allegedly accosted a young Afghan employee. Pearson reportedly complained about the incidents to RA International and ArmorGroup -- the prime contractor on the $187 million State Department embassy contract -- but when the two companies failed to address his concerns, he contacted a Washington law firm. Internal company e-mails obtained by Government Executive show that RA International executives suspected Pearson was a whistleblower. In one of the messages, RA International Chairman Soraya Narfeldt asked Pearson to admit that he was the source of the complaint about the guards. Narfeldt also questioned Pearson in two separate e-mails about calls to the Washington attorney. "They have stated that a staff member of RAI reached out to another law firm in D.C. regarding information pertaining to AGNA," Narfeldt wrote. "I cannot see how they could have this information if it was not true and if you have reached out using the RAI e-mail address then this is quite serious. How can a D.C. firm pluck RAI out of thin air to call with no information? Makes no sense." Narfeldt punctuated the e-mail by noting that ArmorGroup "is our client" and what the company "does within themselves is not our concern." Shortly after receiving the message, Pearson gave his 30-day notice of resignation. Five hours later, he rescinded his resignation, but Scott Fardy, the firm's country manager in Afghanistan, told him to have his personal property removed from Camp Sullivan by the end of the day, e-mails show. Pearson later told the Project on Government Oversight that, "This is definitely a case of get rid of the whistleblower." RA International, however, insists that Pearson left the company voluntarily for reasons that were "not associated" with the guard controversy. "The employee independently made the decision to leave the company," Fardy said in an e-mail to Government Executive. "His notice was received on Sept. 1, 2009. We have very clear [human resource] procedures in place both for dealing with grievances and issues -- in confidence if necessary -- and for ensuring that an employee's decision to leave the company is validated. There was no coercion leading to his resignation and, in fact, RA International's response highlighted that he was welcome to reapply to the company for positions in the future." Fardy said he spoke with Pearson twice following his resignation "to check that he felt he was making the right decision." Once Pearson made up his mind, Fardy said, the company had to move on. RA International has more than 1,000 employees worldwide and, in addition to Afghanistan, holds reconstruction assistance contracts in Darfur, Sudan; and the Central Republic of Chad. Pearson was among the first to blow the whistle on alleged hazing and alcohol-filled debauchery of ArmorGroup guards, much of which was caught on camera and video. On Aug. 1 an ArmorGroup supervisor and four others reportedly entered a Camp Sullivan dining facility that was run by RA International wearing short underwear and brandishing several bottles of alcohol. Before leaving the facility, the supervisor allegedly grabbed the face of a young Afghan national employed by RA International, and began abusing him with foul and sexual language, according to a complaint filed by the employee. Pearson was in charge of taking the statement from the Afghan national. POGO investigators said Pearson was punished for speaking out and that if he had been fired, he would have had difficulty finding work elsewhere as a security contractor. By resigning, however, he can find work with another company. During an interview with CNN over the weekend, Pearson said he does not regret his decision to speak out about the scandal. "If I had the chance to turn back the clock and do something different, I don't think I would," he said. "I would still end up doing exactly the same thing because people's dignity at work and respect at work are more important than the job itself." Meanwhile, other embassy whistleblowers have reportedly been threatened for coming forward with their accusations. POGO said posters were produced and distributed at several locations in Afghanistan calling the whistleblowers "RATS" and warning them that if they continued revealing negative information, then they could be in danger. POGO brought the posters to the attention of the State Department, which has since reportedly put up its own posters stating that, "Threats and/or intimidation are completely unacceptable and should be reported immediately." The posters include the name and phone number of a special agent for the embassy for whistleblowers to contact. On Friday, the State Department announced it had fired eight ArmorGroup contractors who appeared in the photographs. The embassy originally reported that two other guards had resigned their positions. But, POGO said the State Department later rescinded those resignations and fired the employees. State's inspector general office is investigating the conduct of the ArmorGroup guards. RA International is cooperating with the probe, Fardy said.

September 4, 2009 Government Executive
The State Department on Friday announced it has fired eight security contractors assigned to guard the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, after photos surfaced of the men involved in lewd and embarrassing behavior. The guards from ArmorGroup North America left Afghanistan on Friday, according to a statement from the embassy. In addition, the company's senior managers in Kabul are "being replaced immediately," the statement said. The embassy did not release the names of the dismissed employees. "The embassy security office continues its interviews of every one of the ArmorGroup guards," the statement said. The embassy originally reported that two other guards who appeared in the now infamous photographs had resigned their positions. But, sources told the Project on Government Oversight, the watchdog group that broke the scandal, that the State Department rescinded their resignations, fired them and revoked their security clearances. That essentially will prevent them from finding work with another security contractor. But, POGO is concerned that some of the employees who lost their jobs were young recruits who might have been pressured to participate in the sexual and alcohol-fueled escapades captured in the photos. "We have been told people are being fired for simply being in the photographs," POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said. "We do know a number of those were unwilling participants. We also want to hear that the supervisors who were responsible for this debacle are being held fully accountable and not simply allowed to resign and go to another contractor." A team from the State Department's inspector general office arrived in Kabul this week and is conducting an investigation of the allegations. On Thursday, POGO learned that one of the whistleblowers who helped expose the guard scandal allegedly was forced to resign. The whistleblower's company, RA International, is a Dubai-based food service provider at Camp Sullivan, the off-site base where the guards lived.

September 2, 2009 The Guardian
Pictures have emerged showing private contractors at the embassy holding 'deviant and lewd' parties.The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has ordered an investigation into allegations that private contractors employed to protect the American embassy in Afghanistan were engaged in "deviant and lewd" parties that have been compared to Lord of the Flies. The decision to launch the inquiry came after an independent group sent her a 10-page dossier yesterday claiming that the security guards at the embassy had been engaged in drunken parties involving prostitutes and the kind of ritual humiliation associated with gang initiation. Pictures and video footage were attached to the dossier. The dossier, compiled by the independent investigative group Project on Government Insight, includes an email allegedly from a guard currently serving in Kabul 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". The allegations are an embarrassment at a time when the Obama administration is struggling to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan and the Muslim world in general. It comes against the backdrop of the continuing controversy over the widespread use by the US of private contractors in war zones, of which the most notorious was Blackwater, now named Xe. The group at the centre of the new allegations are the ArmorGroup, part of the Florida-based Wackenhut group, one of the biggest private security organisations in the US. The organisation did not respond immediately today to the allegations. The Project on Government Insight, which was established in 1981 to track military procurement and bring to light evidence of any corruption, described the environment at Camp Sullivan, where the guards were housed outside Kabul, as comparable to the anarchy in William Golding's Lord of the Flies. It said about 300 of the 450 ArmorGroup guards are Gurkhas and the rest are a mix of Australians, South Africans and Americans. In the dossier, it said that guards were "engaging in near-weekly deviant hazing and humiliation of subordinates" . It claimed that some guards had barricaded themselves in their rooms out of fear that the alleged hazing might harm them physically. It further claims that guard force supervisors "made no secret that, to celebrate a birthday, they brought prostitutes into Camp Sullivan, which maintains a sign-in log." According to the report, Afghan nationals, as Muslims, were humiliated by the behaviour and the apparently free-flowing use of alcohol. The pictures could be picked up by the Taliban and used as propaganda against the US and its allies. But the Project on Government Insight stressed that comparisons should not be made with the pictures of abuse at the Iraqi prison, Abu Ghraib, because no allegations of torture are being made. The report says that the general breakdown in discipline poses a threat to the security of the embassy. Ian Kelly, the state department spokesman, said of the reports of wild, anarchic partying: "These are very serious allegations, and we are treating them that way." Clinton has "zero tolerance" for the behaviour described and has directed a "review of the whole system" for farming out security to private contractors that may have threatened the safety of embassy personnel, Kelly said. The embassy said today: "Nothing is more important to us than the safety and security of all embassy personnel - Americans and Afghan - and respect for the cultural and religious values of all Afghans." It added: "We have taken immediate steps to review all local guard force policies and procedures and have taken all possible measures to ensure our security is sound." Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who heads a subcommittee on contractor oversight, wrote to the state department calling for the inquiry in the light of the report. McCaskill's committee earlier this year conducted its own hearings on the involvement of ArmorGroup in Afghanistan.

September 1, 2009 Washington Post
Private security contractors who guard the U.S. embassy in Kabul have engaged in lewd behavior and hazed subordinates, demoralizing the undermanned force and posing a "significant threat" to security at time when the Taliban is intensifying attacks in the Afghan capital, according to an investigation released Tuesday by a government watchdog group. The Project on Government Oversight launched the probe after more than a dozen security guards contacted the group to report misconduct and morale problems within the force of 450 guards that lives at Camp Sullivan, a few miles from the U.S. embassy compound. In one incident in May, more than a dozen guards took weapons, night vision goggles and other key equipment and engaged in an unauthorized "cowboy" mission in Kabul, leaving the embassy "largely night blind," POGO wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton outlining the security violations. The guards dressed in Afghan tunics and scarves in violation of contract rules and hid in abandoned buildings in a reconnaissance mission that was not part of their training or mission. Later two heads of the guard force, Werner Ilic and Jimmy Lemon, issued a "letter of recognition" praising the men for "conspicuous intrepidity (sic)" with the U.S. State Department logo on the letter head. "They were living out some sort of delusion," one of the whistle-blower guards said Tuesday in an interview with The Washington Post from Kabul. "It presented a huge opportunity for an international incident," said the guard who spokes on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution. The report recommends that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates immediately assign U.S. military personnel to supervise the guards and remove the management of the current force. It also calls on the State Department to hold accountable diplomatic officials who failed to provide adequate oversight of the contract. The report also found that supervisors held near-weekly parties in which they urinated on themselves and others, drank vodka poured off each other's exposed buttocks, fondled and kissed one another and gallivanted around virtually nude. Photos and video of the escapades were released with the POGO investigation. "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 the letter to Clinton. The guards work for ArmorGroup, North America, which has an $180 million annual contract with the State Department to secure the embassy and the 1,000 diplomats, staff and Afghan nationals who work there. The State Department renewed the contract in July despite finding numerous performance deficiencies by ArmorGroup in recent years which were the subject of a Senate subcommittee hearing in June. Susan Pitcher, a spokeswoman for Wackenhut Services, Inc., the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. company that owns ArmorGroup, declined to comment on Tuesday's POGO report. Conduct of contractors providing security in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the subject of controversy and other investigations in recent years. The government relies heavily on such contractors for security and other needs. A new Congressional Research Service report has found that as of March, the Defense Department had more contract personnel than troops in Afghanistan. The 52,300 uniformed U.S. military and 68,200 contractors in Afghanistan at that time "apparently represented the highest recorded percentage of contractors used by DOD [Defense Department] in any conflict in the history of the United States," the report said. Some 16 percent of the contractors are involved in providing security, a much higher percentage than the 10 percent that were used in Iraq. Although contractors provide many essential services, "they also pose management challenges in monitoring performance and preventing fraud," according to Steven Aftergood, who first disclosed the congressional report on his Secrecy News Web site.

September 1, 2009 AP
Guards hired by the State Department to protect diplomats and staff at the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan live and work in a "Lord of the Flies" environment in which they're subjected to hazing and other inappropriate behavior by supervisors, a government oversight group charged Tuesday. In a 10-page letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Project on Government Oversight contended the situation has led to a breakdown in morale and leadership, compromising security at the embassy in Kabul where nearly 1,000 U.S. diplomats, staff and Afghan nationals work. The group is urging Clinton to launch an investigation of the contract with ArmorGroup North America. It also recommends that she ask the Pentagon to provide "immediate military supervision" of the private security force at the embassy. The oversight group's findings are based on interviews with ArmorGroup guards, documents, photographs and e-mails. One e-mail from a guard describes lurid conditions at Camp Sullivan, the guards' quarters a few miles from the embassy. The message depicted scenes of abuse including guards and supervisors urinating on people and "threats and intimidation from those leaders participating in this activity." Multiple guards say these conditions have created a "climate of fear and coercion." Those who refuse to participate are often ridiculed, humiliated or even fired, they contended. The group's investigation found sleep-deprived guards regularly logging 14-hour days, language barriers that impair critical communications, and a failure by the State Department to hold the contractor accountable. Wackenhut Services, ArmorGroup's parent company, had no immediate comment on the allegations. The State Department also had no immediate comment. The State Department has been aware of ArmorGroup's shortcomings, the letter says, but hasn't done enough to correct the problems. It cites a July 2007 warning from the department to ArmorGroup that detailed more than a dozen performance deficiencies, including too few guards and armored vehicles. Another "cure notice" was sent less than a year later, raising other problems and criticizing the contractor for failing to fix the prior ones. In July 2008, however, the department extended the contract for another year, according to the notice. More problems surfaced and more warning notices followed. Yet at a congressional hearing on the contract in June, State Department officials said the prior shortcomings had been remedied and security at the embassy is effective. The contract was renewed again through 2010. Nearly two-thirds of the embassy guards are Gurkhas from Nepal and northern India who don't speak adequate English, a situation that creates communications breakdowns, the group says. Pantomime is often used to convey orders and instructions. On the Net: Project on Government Oversight:

Xe (formerly Blackwater)
August 20, 2010 New York Times
The private security company formerly called Blackwater Worldwide, long plagued by accusations of impropriety, has reached an agreement with the State Department for the company to pay $42 million in fines for hundreds of violations of United States export control regulations. The violations included illegal weapons exports to Afghanistan, making unauthorized proposals to train troops in south Sudan and providing sniper training for Taiwanese police officers, according to company and government officials familiar with the deal. The settlement, which has not yet been publicly announced, follows lengthy talks between Blackwater, now called Xe Services, and the State Department that dealt with the violations as an administrative matter, allowing the firm to avoid criminal charges. A company spokeswoman confirmed Friday that a settlement had been reached. The State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said he could not immediately comment. The settlement with the State Department does not resolve other legal troubles still facing Blackwater and its former executives and other personnel. Those include the indictments of five former executives, including Blackwater’s former president, on weapons and obstruction charges; a federal investigation into evidence that Blackwater officials sought to bribe Iraqi government officials; and the arrest of two former Blackwater guards on federal murder charges stemming from the killing of two Afghans last year. But by paying fines rather than facing criminal charges on the export violations, Blackwater will be able to continue to obtain government contracts. While the company lost its largest federal contract last year to provide diplomatic security for United States Embassy personnel in Baghdad, where the Iraqi government was incensed by killings of Iraqis in one highly publicized case, it still has contracts to provide security for both the State Department and the C.I.A. in Afghanistan. Blackwater, its reputation tainted in part because of the excessive use of force by some of its personnel in Baghdad, sought for years to extend its reach far beyond the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. For a time, the company’s founder, Erik Prince, had ambitions to turn Blackwater into an informal arm of the American foreign policy and national security apparatus, and proposed to the C.I.A. to create a “quick reaction force” that could handle paramilitary operations for the spy agency around the world. He had hopes that Blackwater’s military prowess could be an influential force in regional conflicts around the world. Mr. Prince, a former Navy Seals member and the heir to an auto parts fortune, took an interest in Africa, particularly the Sudan, and he is said to have wanted Blackwater to step in to help the rebels in southern Sudan, which is predominantly Christian and animist, fight the Sudanese government and the Muslim north, despite United States economic sanctions. Blackwater’s ambitions in Sudan where described in detail by McClatchy newspapers in June. The settlement with the State Department, involving practices from the days before Blackwater was rebranded as Xe Services, comes as Mr. Prince is trying to shed his ties to Blackwater and its past activities. He overhauled the company’s management in 2009, changed its name, and has now put the privately held company up for sale. He has just moved with his family to Abu Dhabi from the United States, a move that colleagues say was a result of his deep anger and frustration over the intense scrutiny he and his firm have received in recent years. The State Department export controls require government approval for the transfer of certain types of military technology or knowledge from the United States to other countries. But Blackwater began to seek training contracts from foreign governments and other foreign organizations without adhering closely to American regulations. The company also shipped automatic weapons and other military equipment for use by its personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan in violation of export controls, and in some cases sought to hide its actions, according to the government. In one incident, Blackwater shipped weapons to Iraq hidden inside containers of dog food. A federal investigation into the company’s weapons shipments to Iraq led to guilty pleas on criminal charges by two former Blackwater employees who are believed to have cooperated with a broader federal inquiry. Investigators reportedly looked into whether some of the weapons that were shipped to Iraq were sold on the black market and ended up in the hands of a Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which Turkey considers a terrorist organization. Turkish officials reportedly complained to the United States about American weapons seized from the group. In 2008, after a federal investigation of Blackwater’s actions was begun, the company admitted “numerous mistakes” in its adherence to export laws, and created an outside board of experts to supervise the firm’s compliance. Current and former government officials say that the government’s inquiry into some of Blackwater’s export control violations began as part of a federal grand jury investigation in North Carolina, where Blackwater is based. But the matter was apparently shifted to the State Department when the criminal investigation in North Carolina narrowed its focus. That grand jury handed down the indictments of the five former Blackwater executives earlier this year. That indictment includes charges that Blackwater executives sought to hide evidence that they had given weapons as gifts to King Abdullah of Jordan. Despite the fines and investigations that have plagued Blackwater, the firm has continued to win contracts from the State Department and the C.I.A. In June, the State Department awarded Blackwater a $120 million contract to provide security at its regional offices in Afghanistan, while the C.I.A. renewed the firm’s $100 million security contract for its station in Kabul. At the time, the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, defended the decision, saying that the company had offered the lowest bid and had “cleaned up its act.”

August 18, 2010 Government Executive
It will be "very challenging" to comply with an edict Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued this week to remove all private security contractors from Afghanistan within the next four months, according to Pentagon and State Department officials. "Obviously that is a very aggressive timeline and one which I think our forces and commanders as well as the State Department and ambassador will be working with the government of Afghanistan to achieve," Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters on Tuesday. About 20,000 armed security contractors work for Defense, State and the U.S. Agency for International Development in Afghanistan, guarding supply convoys, key personnel, checkpoints and installations. Thousands more work for media outlets, private corporations or nongovernmental organizations. But Karzai said the companies still operate with impunity and with little oversight and regulation. He also argued the presence of private security contractors undermines the efforts of Afghanistan's security forces. Karzai expects Afghanistan to assume control of all security functions nationwide by 2014. Whitman noted that while the United States shares a common goal with Karzai to eliminate the need for private security contractors, "we also recognize that Afghanistan presents a daunting security challenge." According to Defense Department figures, there were 16,733 private security contractors in Afghanistan as of the end of March -- a 415 percent increase from the 3,000 who were in the county 15 months earlier. Many of the contractors are Afghan nationals, who would have options for staying on. The State Department, which has more than 1,000 private security contractors on its payroll in Afghanistan, also suggested that Karzai's time frame might be overly ambitious. "We continue to support the Afghan government's intent to properly regulate the activities of private security companies in Afghanistan," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. "There are questions of implementation, however."

August 17, 2010 Reuters
Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a decree on Tuesday setting a deadline of four months to disband private security firms to avoid the misuse of weapons which had caused "horrific and tragic incidents." The decree said the order to disband the companies, which employ up to 40,000 people working mainly for Western enterprises in Afghanistan, was being issued "to prevent irregularities" and the misuse of weapons and other military equipment. "I am signing the dissolution of all local and foreign security companies within four months," said the decree, issued by the presidential palace. The decree includes an exemption for firms whose guards work inside compounds used by foreign embassies, even though Karzai's office said last week there would be no exceptions. Karzai has long called for the disbanding of such companies, which compete for contracts worth billions of dollars, and said last week that time was running out for them. The push to scrap the firms is linked to Karzai's ambitious 2014 timetable for Afghan forces to take over all security responsibility from foreign forces, who presently number almost 150,000 troops. Private security companies, which are not accountable to the Afghan government, have long been an irritant for Afghans and for U.S. and NATO forces in the country after a series of scandals. The U.S. military also employs some of them and the Pentagon said last week it was in talks with Karzai's government to address its concerns.

January 7, 2010 AP
Two ex-Blackwater guards have been arrested and charged with the murder of two Afghans. Twenty-seven year-old Justin Cannon and 29-year-old Chris Drotleff have been indicted on charges of second-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons charges, the AP reports. The two were charged because of an incident last year at an intersection in Kabul, when the two allegedly opened fire on a vehicle and killed two Afghans. Blackwater, now known as Xe, fired them soon after over the incident. This is the latest setback in what was been a rough year for Xe, but that hasn't stopped the military contractor from pushing for even more Defense Department contracts.