Official Says Contractor in Kabul May Be Ousted
By GINGER THOMPSON
New York Times
September 15, 2009
WASHINGTON — The State Department official responsible for overseeing private contracts said Monday that the government was seriously considering terminating its $189 million arrangement with ArmorGroup North America because of recent disclosures of misbehavior by guards at the United States Embassy in Afghanistan.
At a hearing before a federal commission investigating wartime spending, Patrick F. Kennedy, the under secretary of state for management, said ArmorGroup managers had failed to notify the government about parties in which drunken, half-naked guards had urinated on and groped one another.
In response to commission members’ demands that the company be held accountable, Mr. Kennedy said, “We are seeing a very, very serious case being made for termination.”
Mr. Kennedy spoke at a hearing of the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan that was scheduled after a nonprofit oversight group released photographs two weeks ago of the ArmorGroup bacchanals. Those photos led to a State Department investigation and the firing of several ArmorGroup managers.
“It’s a no-brainer — that conduct was appalling,” Mr. Kennedy said. “And the failure on the part of the ArmorGroup managers to stop it caused us to ask for their removal.”
But several other witnesses and almost all eight members of the commission contended that the State Department was doing too little too late about a contract long plagued with serious problems. Among other things, the ArmorGroup force, which provides security at the United States Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, was short on ammunition and understaffed, and its guards did not speak enough English to follow simple commands.
A trail of correspondence between the State Department and ArmorGroup, dating back to 2007, showed that the government was aware of the problems and warned ArmorGroup that it could lose its contract. But the State Department repeatedly accepted ArmorGroup’s promises that problems would be fixed and opted to extend the arrangement.
This time, the commission members said, ArmorGroup must go. Dov S. Zakheim, a former under secretary of defense, said the photos from the ArmorGroup parties posed as much of a threat to American interests in Afghanistan as the photos of abuses at Abu Ghraib posed in Iraq.
“We need to get rid of these people, and we need to do it now, because these pictures on the Internet are killing us,” Mr. Zakheim said. “Afghans go home and tell this stuff to their relatives, who tell it to their tribes, who tell it to the Taliban, who are going to shoot our kids.”
Samuel Brinkley, an executive at Wackenhut Services Inc., a subsidiary of G4S, the Danish company that owns ArmorGroup, said he was “personally embarrassed” by the company’s misconduct in Afghanistan.
He acknowledged that the company did not notify the State Department about the accusations of drinking and sexual harassment until two weeks after learning about them, a delay he characterized as wrong.
But he said the company was determined to make things right by, among other things, replacing the entire management team in Kabul and adopting a policy of no alcohol at Camp Sullivan, the base where its civilian guards are housed.
“We have no tolerance for the types of behaviors that have come to light in Kabul,” Mr. Brinkley said. “We take all allegations seriously. We investigate them. We take firm, swift action to remedy the situation.”