Systemic Problems Found With State Department Contract With Kabul Embassy Security

So here’s how I spent my day. You know ArmorGroup, the company hired by the State Department to guard the U.S. Embassy in Kabul? Where employees repeatedly sexually and physically harassed people? One of the more enduring but less, uh, physically gross problems with ArmorGroup is that many of its guards don’t speak English, a problem that the State Department has cited for years, even though those warnings never persuaded State to cancel the $189 million contract. Today I determined and confirmed that it ArmorGroup’s predecessor in guarding the embassy, MVM, was actually fired by State for precisely the same behavior that ArmorGroup subsequently exhibited.

Exclusive from the Washington Independent:

 A private security company hired to protect the U.S. Embassy in Kabul lost its contract with the State Department in 2007 over the failure of its guards to speak English, according to two senior diplomats who worked in the embassy at that time. Yet ArmorGroup, which was hired by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security to replace that company  — and which is currently embroiled in a physical and sexual harassment scandal — was allowed to keep its contract despite exhibiting exactly the same deficiency that those diplomats said jeopardized the security of the embassy.

In late 2006, shortly after the Virginia-based security company MVM took over the protection of the embassy from the British firm Global Risk, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan began to notice problems with the company’s guards. The guards demonstrated “an inability to understand instructions in English that prevented following orders in an emergency situation,” said Ronald Neumann, who served as ambassador in Kabul from 2005 to 2007. Yet that same lack of proficiency in English that Neumann felt endangered the embassy was allowed to recur with ArmorGroup.

Now, notice something else. MVM lost its contract because State thought a lack of English-speaking guards endangered the embassy. But Blackwater didn’t lose its contract after its guards killed 17 innocent Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square. And it may be allowed to re-submit its bed on the next Worldwide Personal Protective Services contract. Think about that. 

Something is seriously wrong with State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. (Which told me it wouldn’t have a response for me until after the Labor Day holiday, by the way.) “It’s impossible to explain State’s behavior,” Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, told me for the piece. “There is no logic behind any of these actions.”

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman