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McCaskill: Make Sure We Don't Have Another Benghazi

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Our investigation into security issues at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, is certainly relevant to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s marathon testimony today before the Senate and House Committees on Foreign Relations.

Clinton talked at length about the logistical challenges the State Department faces in securing embassies—from the impracticality of turning embassies into fortresses to the outsourcing of embassy protection to private security contractors.

One thing in particular caught our attention: Clinton talked about being hamstrung by federal rules that require the State Department to hire private security contractors who are the "lowest priced, technically acceptable" bidder. That rule holds everywhere except in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan where the State Department can choose the security contractor that offers the "best value."

The problem is that Clinton seems to imply that extending that "best value" provision beyond Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan might address some of the current shortcomings in diplomatic security.

Sen. McCaskill

Sen. Claire McCaskill

If anything, we think the history of the private security contractors at the U.S. embassy in Kabul would suggest otherwise.

Our recent investigation follows another one we did in 2009 that exposed complaints of overworked guards, language barriers among members of the guard force and wild, drunken behavior. The contractor, Armor Group North America, was told it could not rebid on its contract when it expired. Instead, the State Department awarded the current contract to Aegis Defense Services Ltd.

The problem is our over-reliance on private security contractors, not in the way we hire them. It's time for the State Department to rely on federalized security or military in volatile regions of the world.

We expect to hear even more about embassy security during the upcoming confirmation hearings for Clinton’s replacement, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).  According to St. Louis Public Radio, Sen. Claire McCaskill told reporters she plans to talk to Kerry about embassy security:

“Right now we have another problem with security at the embassy in Kabul in Afghanistan, where we have contractors that are supposed to be securing our embassy," said McCaskill. "And we’ve seen failure after failure after failure by these contracted individuals to be competent, professional and thorough. I want to make sure we don’t have another Benghazi.”

Last week, we reported that several current and former guards at the U.S. embassy in Kabul said security weaknesses, including a guard force stretched dangerously thin by long hours, have left the embassy vulnerable to attack. Dozens of guards signed a petition sounding an alarm about embassy security. The petition accused leaders of the private contractor guard force of “tactical incompetence” and “a dangerous lack of understanding of the operational environment.” We also obtained a State Department memo that describes a “mutiny” among guards that “undermined the chain of command” and “put the security of the Embassy at risk.”

Today, we wrote about a lawsuit filed by guards who say Aegis supervisors at times directed guards to lie about the number of hours they worked to avoid revealing that they have been on the job up to 18 hours per day.

Matt over on the Feral Jundi blog has some spot-on analysis of the situation:

Another point I want to bring up is that today’s security contracting industry is filled with combat seasoned contractors who know exactly what is needed to actually provide security in a war zone. If these guys are recognizing deficiencies in the security apparatus of the embassy, then it would behoove the leadership to listen to these concerns and make adjustments. Especially after such incidents like what happened in Benghazi.

They should be thanking these men for actually caring about the mission and the defense of the facility, and bringing these concerns forward. Instead, it looks like the ego of these leaders is more important and they have chosen to fire or reprimand those who actually spoke up. Shameful….

Image by Joe Newman.

By: Joe Newman
Director of Communications, POGO

joe newman Joe Newman is the Director of Communications for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Contract Oversight

Related Content: Contractor Accountability, Defense, Embassy Guards, Federal Contractor Misconduct, Government Privatization, Private Security Contractors, State Department

Authors: Joe Newman

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