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“Stoned” Guy in the Street Ruins U.S. Embassy Kabul’s Supposed Drug-Free Workplace

Posted: 4:10 am ET

 

The AFP reported last week that six employees of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul have been dismissed for drug use or possession.  The State Department confirmed that “six individuals were involved” but that they are not State Department employees according to AFP. The report does not indicate what drugs were used but Afghanistan remains the world’s top opium producer despite billions of dollar spent by the U.S. government there.

It’s not like this is the first time there have been major personnel issues at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan.

Some years ago both American and expatriate Diplomatic Security contract U.S. Embassy guard staff members (including supervisors) appeared naked in numerous photographs and were also photographed fondling each other. These photographed activities took place at parties in or around the guard staff housing compound, and were evidence of, not surprisingly, “a pattern of blatant, longstanding violations of the security contract.” See POGO writes to Secretary Clinton about US Embassy Kabul Guards.

In 2013, the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) went looking for a contractor who would be responsible for administering drug tests to the estimated 1,300 security employees in Kabul. Noting that these “armed employees” in Kabul, who were “exposed to extreme conditions,” needed to be “reliable, stable, and show(ing) good use of judgment,” the cyclical drug testing (every six months) for amphetamines, opiates, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, cocaine, and marijuana was required.  So basically new contractors testing other contractors, see more here: State Dept Seeks Drug/Steroid Testing of Security Personnel in Afghanistan and Jerusalem.

But something obviously went wrong somewhere, hey? Sounds like the twice a year screening did not work. A person who appeared to be intoxicated was apparently noticed “wandering around in a state of confusion.” As a consequence, six U.S. Embassy Kabul mission members have been fired for allegedly using, possessing, and even selling illegal drugs. According to the Wall Street Journal, after investigators identified “the drug dealer” involved, his cellular phone was mined for contacts/leads and extensive searches of the embassy employees’ housing complex were launched, which led to the discovery of yet more drugs and more drug users.

According to the Wall Street Journal, most of the employees who were fired were American employees. Furthermore, this number allegedly includes contractors for Aegis/Garda. It is noteworthy that several years ago, dozens of Embassy Kabul guard staff members signed a petition accusing Aegis/Garda guard staff leaders of “tactical incompetence,” and shared that they had “a dangerous lack of understanding of the operational environment.” These American employees further called attention to serious gaps in the manned security of the compound, such as guard shortages at key guard positions.

In 2013, former Embassy Kabul security guards filed a class-action lawsuit against Aegis, claiming that the company refused to pay them for the overtime that they had worked while in Kabul. Though this lawsuit was later sent to arbitration, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) noted her opposition to the State Department’s continued reliance on contractors for embassy security. “We’ve seen failure after failure after failure by these contracted individuals to be competent, professional, and thorough,” she stated.

Note that last year, the housing compound for U.S. Embassy Kabul security personnel was also hit by a bomb (see US Embassy Kabul: January 4 Attacks Target USG Employees at Camp Sullivan).  According to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the severity of the blast was significant. The blast radius was 100 meters wide, and the explosion left a crater that was fifteen feet deep. Half of the housing compound was rendered uninhabitable.

Aegis, the security contractor discussed above, was purchased by Garda/GardaWorld in 2015. Canada-based Garda, the world’s largest security services provider, acquired Aegis in order to expand their company presence throughout both the Middle East and Africa. Garda bids aggressively for embassy security contracts in places like Kabul. In 2015, it undercut former contractor Hart Security Australia with a three-year $72.3 million bid for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). In this case, Australian Security staff  reportedly faced a 60% wage reductions to keep their jobs. Read more about that here.

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State Dept Honors Six Security Contractors Killed in 2014 Camp Gibson-Kabul Suicide Attack

Posted: 3:11  am EDT

 

On August 3, the State Department held a ceremony honoring six security personnel who were killed while working for DynCorp International on behalf of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) in Afghanistan.

All six honorees were security guards at Camp Gibson in Kabul and were killed on July 22, 2014, when a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle attacked the camp.  They hailed from four different countries – Fiji, India, Kenya, and Nepal.  Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom and INL Assistant Secretary William R. Brownfield will pay tribute to our fallen colleagues by laying a wreath at the INL Memorial Wall located within the State Department building at its 21st Street Entrance.

There are 93 names on the wall commemorating the individuals from 12 countries and the United States who lost their lives between 1989 and 2014 while supporting the Department’s criminal justice assistance programs abroad.  These individuals collaborated with host governments and civil society in challenging environments to enhance respect for rule of law around the world.  The Department is proud to recognize their service and sacrifice to our nation.

A virtual INL Memorial Wall is available at http://www.state.gov/j/inl/inlvirtualwall to pay tribute to the 93 honorees and their families.

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The State Department announcement does not include the names of those honored at the INL ceremony. The New Indian Express identified the two Indian nationals as P V Kuttappan and Raveendran Parambath, as well as the two Nepali security guards as Ganga Limbu and Anil Gurung.  The security guards from Fiji and Kenya were not identified.

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Munns v. Kerry: Court Dismisses Suit Challenging Policies on Private Security Contractors in Iraq

Posted: 12:30 am EDT

 

WaPo covered the ambushed and abduction of  four Americans and an Austrian employed by Crescent Security Group, a small private security firm in Iraq in July 2007.  In March 2008, U.S. authorities were reported to be in possession of five severed fingers, four of which belong to private security contractors.  In May 2008, the FBI identified the remains of the kidnapped contractors. This case was originally filed on March 22, 2010, Munns et al v. Clinton et al; case number 2:2010cv00681.

Via Opinion from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, filed on Mar 20, 2015 (pdf):

Summary:

The panel affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ equitable claims due to lack of standing and their federal benefits claims due to lack of jurisdiction, and vacated the district court’s dismissal of the due process and takings claims for withheld back pay and insurance proceeds in an action brought against United States government officials by family members and a coworker of three Americans who were kidnapped and killed while providing contract security services during the United States military occupation of Iraq.

Opinion:

This case arises from the kidnappings and brutal killings of three Americans who were providing contract security services during the United States military occupation of Iraq. The plaintiffs, who include family members and a former coworker of these three men, brought suit against United States government officials to challenge policies governing the supervision of private contractors and the response to kidnappings of American citizens in Iraq (“policy claims”). They also claim the government is withholding back pay, life insurance proceeds and government benefits owed to the families of the deceased contractors (“monetary claims”).

The district court dismissed the policy claims for lack of standing and for presenting nonjusticiable political questions. It dismissed the monetary claims for failure to establish a waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity from suits for damages and for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. We hold that the plaintiffs have not shown they are likely to be harmed in the future by the challenged policies. They therefore lack standing to seek prospective declaratory and injunctive relief regarding those policies. We further hold that the plaintiffs have failed to allege a governmental waiver of sovereign immunity that would confer jurisdiction in the district court over their monetary claims. Finally, we hold that the United States Court of Federal Claims has jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims for withheld back pay and insurance proceeds, and we direct the district court to transfer those claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1631. We thus affirm in part and vacate in part and remand.

Background:

In November 2006, while working for Crescent, contractors Munns, Young and Cote were assigned to guard a 46-truck convoy traveling from Kuwait to southern Iraq. The plaintiffs allege that on the day of the convoy, Crescent issued the men substandard military equipment and ordered other security team members not to accompany them on the convoy, and that Iraqi security team members slated to join the convoy failed to show up for work, leaving only seven contractors to guard the convoy. When the convoy stopped at an Iraqi police checkpoint, 10 armed men approached and, along with the Iraqi police, took five of the contractors captive, including Munns, Young and Cote. The men were held for over a year, until their kidnappers brutally executed them sometime in 2008.

The plaintiffs trace the contractors’ kidnappings and murders to Crescent’s failure to adequately prepare and supervise its personnel in Iraq. They allege Crescent’s deficient conduct was “officially sanctioned” by the Secretary of State through an unlawful order issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) overseeing the U.S. occupation. CPA Order 17 allegedly gave “blanket immunity [to contractors] from all prosecution,” granting them a “license to kill” with impunity and permitting contractors to “circumvent the authority of Congress, the Courts, and the Constitution.”2 Additionally, the plaintiffs say they heard rumors that CPA Order 17, and the consequent lawless behavior of some security contractors, may have been the motivation behind the kidnappings.

Circuit Judge Reinhardt:

The more troubling and painful question is what the role of our government should be if and when terrorist groups like ISIS or Al Queda capture an American citizen and hold him hostage, and whether the government may, or should, impose any limitation on the rights of the citizen’s family or friends to communicate with that group or pay a ransom. It is significant that the government has told this court that currently there are no policies preventing private individuals from making efforts to secure the release of relatives who are held captive abroad. More important however from the standpoint of the legal rules that govern us, the parties bringing the action – relatives of contractors’ employees “brutally killed,” as Judge Fisher puts it, in the Middle East – seek no damages resulting from that policy but simply seek to have the policy declared unlawful. They ask that the government be enjoined from implementing the policy in the future. Again, even assuming that contrary to what the government tells us, such a policy exists, we cannot under well established legal rules render a decision that will be of no immediate benefit to the individuals bringing the lawsuit. Because the plaintiffs have no relatives currently in the Middle East, or currently in greater danger from terrorist groups than any of the rest of us, we again face only a hypothetical question – the kind that courts do not answer

Read in full online here or download the opinion in pdf file here.

 

Related item:

7 FAM 1820 Hostage Taking and Kidnapping (pdf)

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US Mission Iraq: No Iraqi Visas Issued to USG Security Personnel Since December?

The Iraq Travel Warning dated January 19, 2012 saysthat “the ability of the Embassy to respond to situations in which U.S. citizens face difficulty, including arrests, is extremely limited.”

Apparently the “extremely limited” response even includes the issuance of visas for USG security personnel in Iraq.

In our mailbox is the following email:

“No visas have been issued to security personnel since December and there is no straight answer coming from the Department of State or the Ministry of Interior.”

One of our correspondents is concerned that this situation “will result in loss of life” as their “ability to protect continues to be compromised.”

The State Department’s current Travel Warning says that“The U.S. government considers the potential threat to U.S.

US State Department contract security, Interna...

US State Department contract security, International (Green) Zone, Baghdad, Iraq. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

government personnel in Iraq to be serious enough to require them to live and work under strict security guidelines. All U.S. government employees under the authority of the U.S. Ambassador must follow strict safety procedures when traveling outside the Embassy. State Department guidance to U.S. businesses in Iraq advises the use of protective security details.”

If so, how does the “strict security” guidelines and “strict safety procedures” work if the protective security details are missing due to the sticky wheel on the visa bus?

On February 8, 2012 WaPo reported that the US Embassy Baghdad compound was locked down for nearly all of December out of security concerns, and the vast majority of U.S. personnel rarely leave its confines.

“U.S. trainers for middle- and senior-level police officials, located for convenience across the street from Iraq’s national police headquarters and police academy, have been unable to cross that street without heavy security and have largely ceased any outside movement.”

One can only hope that they are not in permanent lock down as they’re rightsizing.  We understand that the US Mission in Baghdad was expected to have 16,000 personnel.  About 2,000 are reportedly diplomats and 14,000 are private security and life support contractors.

How much of the expected 5,000-7,000 security personnel made it to Iraq before the visa clamp down came down in December?  And if true that no visas had been issued to USG security personnel since December, how is that impacting the mobility and security of our embassy personnel? Has it been in lock down since the military left?

We have reached out to the US Embassy Baghdad on the visa issue last week and will update this post if we ever get a response. We say if because we’ve had very limited success in getting a response even from their Press Office, except on the few occasion when somebody there had a personal blog to plug in.

If you’re reading this from Baghdad, we’d like to hear if you’ve been forced to telecommute from the bunker due to limited availability of personal security support.

Domani Spero