The private security force tasked with defending the U.S. Embassy in war-torn Afghanistan has been chronically understaffed, leaving the compound at risk, former guards told the Project On Government Oversight (POGO). Previously unpublished documents obtained by POGO buttress their accounts.
POGO’s investigation also shows that a top State Department official delivered inaccurate and misleading testimony to a Senate panel in July, when he dismissed concerns about security at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, who oversees diplomatic security, said “the proof is in the pudding” and the contractor now responsible for protecting the embassy had proven itself by twice rebuffing enemy attacks on the compound. The events he described never happened.
The weaknesses in the embassy’s defenses are especially troubling because they have continued long after last year’s deadly attack in Benghazi focused Washington on the stakes. Now, U.S. diplomatic posts around the world face heightened risks amid threats of retaliation for a potential U.S. strike on Syria, the one-year anniversary of Benghazi and the anniversary of 9-11.
In an investigative packaged published on POGO’s website, former employees of Aegis Defense Services, the embassy’s security contractor, agreed to speak on the record because of their concerns about the safety of the embassy and its personnel.
J.P. Antonio, a former Aegis medic, told POGO that understaffing and other security problems were chronic since he began working for the company in Kabul in May 2012.
“If the embassy were attacked, we’d have a huge problem and I don’t want to think about the casualties,” Antonio said.
Thomas Boggs, a former shift leader of Aegis’ Emergency Response Team, told POGO the guard force was significantly short of key staff, including supervisors, medics and members of the Emergency Response Team.
The new information is all the more remarkable because former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her successor, John Kerry, have spoken forcefully of the need to bolster protection for U.S. diplomatic installations around the world.
In the Afghan capital, Aegis has been protecting the U.S. embassy since the middle of last year. The company is operating under a State Department contract that the department has said could be worth $457 million over multiple years. More than 1,500 diplomats and staff members at the U.S. embassy compound have been depending on the company.