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Concerns Intensify on Contractors in Afghanistan

Just as the American embassy in Kabul announced the firing of eight private security guards for misconduct, an investigation has begun to determine whether money received by some contractors was funneled to the Taliban. GlobalPost's Charles Sennott offers insight.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And, in Kabul, the U.S. Embassy announced the firing of eight private security guards. Also replaced was the entire management team of the private contractor hired to protect the embassy. Earlier this week, photos surfaced showing some guards engaging in drunken and lewd behavior. But other troubles are coming to light involving contractors hired by the U.S. to build that country's infrastructure. Margaret Warner has part three of our Afghan report tonight.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    How does the Taliban fund its operations in Afghanistan? Part of the money may come from the hundreds of millions of dollars the U.S. Agency for International Development, or AID, pays to private contractors for building projects there. AID's inspector general has opened a probe into whether some of that money is actually going to the Taliban in what amounts to a massive protection racket.

    The online news organization GlobalPost has been reporting the story. And we get more from GlobalPost executive editor Charles Sennott. And, Charlie, welcome.

    CHARLES SENNOTT, executive editor and vice president, GlobalPost: Thank you. MARGARET WARNER: Tell us, how does this protection racket work?

  • CHARLES SENNOTT:

    Well, it is a very troubling story that was uncovered by our correspondent Jean MacKenzie. And what Jean found in reporting in the southeast of the country, the north, and in Kabul is that there is essentially a protection racket. What the Taliban does in the areas where it has control is, they shake down the local contractors, and particularly subcontractors, to try to get a percentage of the contracts they're getting from USAID or the other international donors.

    This is a lot of money. You know, the USAID sends a billion dollars a year on average into Afghanistan. These are large sums of money. And what Jean was finding from contractors was, they build in a 20 percent cost out to the Taliban for shaking them down. So, these — these are large sums of money.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Now, as I understand it, AID usually awards contracts to U.S. contractors, who, then, in turn, hire local subs. Who is actually making the payments? CHARLES SENNOTT: That's correct.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Are — is it the Afghan subs, or are — are there cases — did she find there were cases where the U.S. contractors themselves are doing it?

  • CHARLES SENNOTT:

    We mostly found subcontractors. We did not find an on-the-record example of an American contractor, a name that we would know, directly paying the Taliban. Much more likely scenario, the one that Jean established in her reporting, were Afghan subcontractors working for the American firms. But, if you follow the money, if you follow U.S. American taxpayers' dollars, they go from USAID to the contracts, through the American NGOs, down to the subcontractor level, and then to the Taliban. This is so organized, we found in this reporting at GlobalPost, that they even have an office. The Taliban has an actual contracts office in downtown Kabul. And it — it's opening — it's operating fairly openly, which is — is — really adds to the outrage of this.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Nobody ever said they weren't good businessmen, as we see the way they run the drug business.

  • CHARLES SENNOTT:

    Right.

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