Kabul Embassy Guards Back in the Spotlight

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) continues to shine a light on the State Department’s controversial use of contractor security guards at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Last Friday, she sent this letter pressing the Department for additional information about its plans and goals for the scandal-plagued contract.

Since last June, McCaskill’s Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight has been closely watching the contract to provide security services at the embassy, documenting waste, fraud and abuse that threatens the security of the embassy. In September, POGO brought the issue to international attention when it disclosed various other abuses, including shocking photos showing employees of the security guard contractor ArmorGroup North America (a subsidiary of G4S/Wackenhut) engaging in Animal House-style hazing. Months of unrelenting criticism led the State Department to announce in December it would not renew the contract with AGNA when it expired in mid-2010, although AGNA would stay put until the transition to the new security contractor was complete.

As if the integrity and responsibility of this new security contractor wasn’t enough to worry about, McCaskill now foresees another potential crisis. It seems the State Department plans to “augment” its oversight of the security contractor…by hiring another contractor. As outlined by Ambassador Eric Boswell in this response to McCaskill’s questions (see p. 4):

As part of the long term solution, [Diplomatic Security] has conducted interviews and is now in the selection and hiring process for a personal service contractor (i.e., an employee engaged directly by the government rather than a third-party contractor) who will reside at Camp Sullivan and further augment the [Regional Security Officer’s] contract oversight responsibilities.

Senator McCaskill has given the State Department until April 30 to turn over information relating to its use of contractors to manage and oversee security contractors.

The State Department has been criticized before for outsourcing oversight of its security contractors. In 2008, POGO blogged about the controversial Bureau of Diplomatic Security contract to staff a special unit to investigate instances of misuse of force against civilians by American private security contractors in Iraq. Concern over a contractor performing the inherently governmental function of conducting criminal investigations prompted Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI.) to write a letter to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging her to cancel the contract and staff the unit with government employees only.

POGO still questions the wisdom of hiring contractors to provide security in a war zone. By assigning the responsibility for overseeing these contractors to other contractors, however, the State Department might have gone too far.