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Contractors Under Scrutiny at U.S. Embassy in Kabul

A nonpartisan watchdog on Tuesday charged that language barriers, overwork, and lewd behavior by U.S. government contractors are undermining security at the American embassy in Kabul. Margaret Warner reports.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Just two weeks ago, outside NATO headquarters in Kabul, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-filled car at a checkpoint. The blast killed seven people and wounded 91.

    But the real target, said a Taliban spokesman, was not the NATO mission, but the U.S. Embassy, part of the same huge installation just down a closed road from the NATO site. As more American troops and treasure pour into Afghanistan, there are new questions about whether one of the most tempting U.S. targets for terrorists, the American Embassy, is being adequately protected.

    Today, the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog group, laid out allegations of serious misconduct and security lapses by ArmorGroup. That's the private security company that guards the Embassy, under a $189 million contract with the State Department.

    ArmorGroup, which is owned by a Florida-based firm called Wackenhut deploys a force of 450 men in Kabul. One hundred and fifty are so-called expats, former military and policemen from English-speaking countries. Three hundred are so-called Gurkhas from Nepal or Northern India.

    The watchdog group's letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today detailed allegations from more than a dozen current and former expat ArmorGroup guards.

    It said: "The evidence collected calls into question ArmorGroup and Wackenhut's ability to provide effective security of the embassy" — among the allegations, routine 14-hour days, causing severe sleep deprivation for guards, chronic understaffing, causing frequently revoked leave time, inability to communicate between English-speaking expats and Nepalese Gurkhas, ritual hazing, lewd activity, prostitute use, and alcohol abuse by some expat guards and their supervisors, and low morale, causing 90 to 100 percent annual turnover in the guard force.

    Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project, said the security implications are enormous.

    DANIELLE BRIAN, executive director, Project on Government Oversight: We are tremendously concerned because we have a guard force that is sleep-deprived. They are working 14-hour days for weeks on end, with no leave.

    They are tremendously demoralized, seeing their supervisors engaged in really bizarre and deviant misconduct. So, it's ruining the — the chain of command and the level of trust. You have guards that can't actually speak the same language to each other. So, if there were an incident, the capacity to respond quickly is — is — is practically zero.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Her group released a video and photos to back up what it called a "Lord of the Flies" atmosphere at the residential camp where the guards live. It shows drunken nudity and lewd hazing of new guard recruits.

    And the lewd and deviant behavior, why does that matter?

  • DANIELLE BRIAN:

    It devastating to these people, many of whom have lawn enforcement and military background, to — to show up in an environment that is so debaucherous and — and the fact that supervisors are using participation in these kinds of parties as a — as a kind of weapon.

    If you don't participate, we're going to take you off the preferred — preferred posts. We're going to make sure, if you have any slight infraction somewhere, we're going to get it — get you on it.

    So, it's being used as a weapon.

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