POGO writes to Secretary Clinton about US Embassy Kabul Guards

LettersImage by *madalena-pestana* via Flickr

And this is not/not a fan mail …

The Project On Government Oversight has posted online its letter to Secretary Clinton questioning the effectiveness of security at US Embassy Kabul. If you remember this was the subject of a congressional hearing back in June (see my post here). The POGO letter cited ineffectual oversight by the Department of State and serious security vulnerabilities such as the inability of guards to communicate, guard shortages causing chronic sleep deprivation and “supervisors engaging in deviant hazing and humiliation.” The letter says in part:

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) initiated an investigation after nearly one-tenth of the U.S./ex-pat 6 guards individually contacted us to express concerns about and provide evidence of a pattern of blatant, longstanding violations of the security contract, and of a pervasive breakdown in the chain of command and guard force discipline and morale. This environment has resulted in chronic turnover by U.S./ex-pat guards. According to the State Department, “nearly 90% of the incumbent US/Expats left within the first six months of contract performance.”7 According to POGO sources, the U.S./ex-pat guard turnover may be as high as 100 percent annually. This untenable turnover prevents the guard force from developing team cohesion, and requires constant training for new replacement recruits. The guards have come to POGO because they say they believe strongly in the mission, but are concerned that many good guards are quitting out of frustration or being fired for refusing to participate in the misconduct, and that those responsible for the misconduct are not being held accountable.
After extensive interviews with eyewitnesses, and examination of documents, photographs, videos, and emails, POGO believes that the management of the contract to protect the U.S. Embassy Kabul is grossly deficient, posing a significant threat to the security of the Embassy and its personnel—and thereby to the diplomatic mission in Afghanistan.
the extensive evidence provided to POGO of continued security problems at the U.S. Embassy Kabul …calls into question AGNA and Wackenhut‘s ability to provide effective security of the Embassy; and makes a clear case that the State Department has failed in its oversight of its security contractor.

POGO also says that “photograph after photograph shows guards—including supervisors—at parties in various stages of nudity, sometimes fondling each other. These parties take place just a few yards from the housing of other supervisors.” The letter to the Secretary has five attachments available online (see links below) and 12 photographs (no visible POGO links online).

The letter ends with a 6-point recommendation including an “independent investigation of the U.S. Embassy Kabul security contract in order to hold corporations as well as individuals accountable for the above noted misconduct and contract violations,” “consider whether the security of an embassy in a combat zone is an inherently governmental function, and therefore not subject to contracting out,” and “initiating suspension and debarment proceedings against the companies ArmorGroup North America, Inc. (AGNA) and Wackenhut Services, Inc., as well as against any individual employees of these companies who were responsible for contract-related improprieties or abuses….”

Wikipedia links added above. Read the whole thing here. The PDF file of the letter is here. Links to the attachments cited in the letter are listed below.

Updated @ 08:49 AM:

The race is now on as to who can pen the most titillating headline out of the POGO report. The report currently pools 23 news items plus 20 more here as of this writing. That’s just in the last 24 hours since this story broke. By comparison news about “Afghanistan metrics” returns 105 news items for the whole year of 2009.

One of the attachments mentions a video. I don’t know if this is the one, but CBS News has obtained a video that shows alleged hazing practices by the security firm.

Gawker has posted eight graphic photos and has called the characters “Sexually Confused Frat Boys.”

Why post the links here? This is going to be around in the next several news cycle; you might as well see what this circus is about. The ArmorGroup will reportedly have a statement today. Also Congress returns next week … I’m sure a committee or two would want to wade into this issue. Just you wait.

Mid-Level Hiring Trouble Brewing at USAID?

USAIDImage by US Army Africa via Flickr

Just saw the note from AFSA USAID Vice President Francisco Zamora on mid-level hiring:

AFSA USAID has just submitted to USAID an Implementation Dispute in accordance with section 1014 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 as amended to cease and desist placing new mid-level DLI officers into existing and created positions overseas which regular officers have not had the opportunity to compete for.

Background: The previous and current administration and Congress have agreed on the need to rebuild USAID, which AFSA supports. Some focused mid-level hiring into the Foreign Service makes sense in this regard. However, AFSA does not trust that the Agency recognizes the inequity and the damage to morale that excessive mid-level hiring imposes in our up-or-out, competitive, merit-based Foreign Service. Over the last two years, AFSA has repeatedly requested but still not received any analysis or workforce planning data that would justify mid-level hiring in certain backstops that have not resorted to such hiring before. AFSA maintains that FS-4 hiring is sufficient for new hires in the majority of cases, as has been the Agency’s decades-old practice, and is enshrined in the FS Act of 1980. AFSA continues to work to educate Congress and others on the negative implications of excessive mid-level hiring on the Foreign Service. However, AFSA will not object to sending new mid-level hires to critical positions such as the four Critical Priority Countries and, on a case-by-case basis, where it is proven that there is no other alternative.

Nevertheless, AFSA does have serious concerns with new mid-level officers being assigned to positions that do not exist on the staffing pattern, and also filling vacancies before existing officers have a chance to bid on the positions. USAID management has rationalized that some of these newly created overseas mid-level positions can be classified as training slots. This, of course, makes no sense because mid-levels are expected to already be at competence level at those grades, and are therefore not considered trainees. AFSA is seeking to negotiate with the Agency for sensible changes to the policy and process for assigning new mid-level hires, and will pursue all avenues open to us, up to and including third party arbitration. Up to now, the Agency has rebuffed AFSA, we believe, in contravention of its bargaining agreement and labor practices enshrined in federal law and policy. (wikipedia links in above text added).

You may send comments and questions to the USAID VP.

I don’t know how many positions are at stake here; I can’t say whether this is excessive hiring or not. But eight mid-level positions are currently being advertised at USAID Careers, all without closing dates; at least three position had been posted since 2008. Here is the mid-level hiring page. HTML copy of the framework agreement between USAID and AFSA dated February 2009 is here. (Original document of the framework posted online is in Word; I have converted that document into PDF here). The text of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 is here. The relevant section is Chapter 10 for Labor Management Relations.

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Quickie: Relearning Where the Alligators Are By Being Bitten Again

Lessons Not Learned

David T. Jones, a retired Senior FSO, participated in a State Department study of the last two years of the Clinton administration’s Middle East peace process.
In the September issue of the Journal, Mr. Jones pens Strengthen the Process for Middle East Diplomacy. Excerpt below:

Between 1999 and 2001, many senior members of the Clinton administration’s Middle East peace process team wrote neither reporting cables nor memoranda of conversation. Much of the material in the files was undated, had no classification, and lacked drafting and other identifying information — the epitome of the “nonpaper.”
George W. Bush’s administration performed no better, though it repeatedly proclaimed its intention to approach the region differently. Yet during its eight years in office, it did not engage there (diplomatically, at least) with anything approaching the intensity of its predecessor. And its much-touted “road map” for Middle East progress proved the diplomatic equivalent of the Alaskan bridge to nowhere. To the extent that it did engage, Washington continued its highly secretive, keep-no-records approach.
The rationale for this approach is twofold: a fear of leaks in politicized circumstances and a desire to honor requests, often from foreign government officials, that no records be kept. Yet even if our negotiators are blessed with total recall, such skills are not transferable to a new negotiating team; brain implants are still science fiction, after all. And giving in to the desire for deniability only puts Washington at a severe disadvantage compared to those parties that did keep records, forcing us to relearn where the alligators are in the swamp by being bitten again.

Read the full text here (see FSJ | p.15):

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