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Senators Ask State Department To Respond to POGO Report on Embassy Security

Leaders of a Senate panel are asking the State Department to explain how its assurances about security at the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan square with a report this week by the Project On Government Oversight documenting problems.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, sent a letter to the State Department Wednesday demanding answers.

POGO reported Tuesday that, according to former embassy guards and records of security force staffing levels, there have been persistent gaps in the embassy’s defenses. In addition, POGO reported that a senior State Department official delivered inaccurate and misleading testimony in July when he dismissed senators’ concerns about security at the embassy in Kabul.

The official, Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, told lawmakers that the contractor currently responsible for protecting the embassy had proven its effectiveness by rebuffing “two direct attacks on our embassy compound.” In fact, POGO reported, that never happened.

Kennedy, who oversees diplomatic security, also said at a July hearing that the Kabul embassy was being protected through “a well-managed, effectively functioning contract.”

In a letter dated Sept. 11,McCaskill and Johnson asked Kennedy to explain how the performance of the security contractor, Aegis Defense Services, “is well-managed and effectively functioning in providing security to the Kabul Embassy despite persistent staffing shortages.”

The senators asked for information about any waivers from its security standards that the State Department has granted Aegis or contractors at other high-risk embassies since Sept. 11, 2001 – the day Al Qaeda struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“In addition, we request that you provide a detailed explanation of any inaccuracies or inconsistencies in the testimony you gave to the Subcommittee or in information previously provided to the Subcommittee related to the security of the Embassy,” McCaskill and Johnson wrote.

The senators asked Kennedy to respond by Sept. 18.