After Scandal, State Department Orders a Housecleaning in Kabul

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 5, 2009

The State Department has demanded the replacement of the entire management team of its security contractor at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan and requested the removal of all personnel involved in a scandal in which private guards allegedly engaged in lewd behavior and drunken brawls, officials said Friday.

The contractor, McLean-based ArmorGroup North America, has so far terminated the contracts of eight of the guards and two others have resigned, according to a statement from the embassy in Kabul. The men left Afghanistan on Friday, the statement said.

The scandal comes less than a year after five Blackwater Worldwide Security guards working for the State Department were charged in a shooting frenzy in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. The incident prompted widespread criticism of the department's oversight of its guards and raised questions about whether security jobs in a war zone should be outsourced.

The guard troubles in Afghanistan were brought to light by the Project on Government Oversight. It found there was a "significant threat to the security of the Embassy and its personnel" due to frequent understaffing of security guard posts, poor morale and language problems with guards hired from Nepal.

In perhaps its most unseemly allegation, the group reported that guard supervisors at the embassy engaged in "near-weekly deviant hazing and humiliation of subordinates" at the Kabul camp where they were housed. The report was accompanied by graphic photos and videos, including one showing a guard drinking vodka that had been poured over another man's naked backside. About 30 guards and supervisors were involved in the improper activities, the group said.

Ian Kelly, a State Department spokesman, said 120 guards had been interviewed so far as part of investigations into the allegations.

"We did ask the ArmorGroup to remove all personnel involved in these disgusting events that you've seen in the photos," Kelly said.

Marthena Cowart, the director of communications at the Project on Government Oversight, praised the move and said the guards had also lost their U.S. government security clearances.

A person answering the telephone at the press office of Wackenhut Services, the parent company of ArmorGroup, said no one was available for comment on Friday afternoon.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company