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Should U.S. Military Supervise Private Security in Kabul?

Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 05:25 PM EDT

An article in TIME magazine today continues the coverage of the sorry private security situation at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. First there were the photos of security contractors behaving ingloriously and the scathing report of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and its letter to Sec. of State Clinton. Yesterday (9/10) Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent detailed the ArmorGroup contract

former senior company officials said ArmorGroup was aware of widespread fraud; intentional use of non-English speaking guards to save money at the expense of embassy security; operations of a shell corporation in order to win contracts intended only for American companies; and even involvement in prostitution — and that the State Department knew about at least some of the company’s illicit practices.

In a follow-up story today, Ackerman quotes the communications director, Leslie Philips, for Sen. Lieberman’s government affairs committee, on what they knew and how long State has known of these issues

Concerns about this contract had been raised long before the meeting [between Gorman, other whistleblowers, and the staff, which occurred November 7, 2007], and the State Department was communicating its concerns to the contractor. The concerns dealt with issues such as the inadequate number of guards at the embassy, high turnover among guards, and the guards’ inadequate English-speaking abilities. None of the concerns involved the sexual malfeasance and other inappropriate behavior that has most recently been reported.

The blog, Diplopundit, has some information as well and fills in the org. chart at State vis-a-vis diplomatic security a bit on this

Ultimately, [the undersecretary for] Management and Diplomatic Security [departments] are the ones on the line here. One oversees administration including contracts and the other has oversight on the ground through the Regional Security Office. Of course, on the ground Regional Security Officers report directly to the Deputy Chief of Mission or the Deputy Ambassador, who then reports directly to the US Ambassador. So this thing is going to ricochet through multiple offices and cubicles before this is over.

POGO urges the military to assume supervision of the embassy’s private security contractors (PSCs). In Iraq, it wasn’t until SecDef Gates pushed the Memo of Agreement through after Blackwater’s debacle at Nisoor Square in Sept. ‘07 that DOD and State really got on the same page there and serious incidents involving State’s PSCs decreased to zero.

Contractors are leery of coming under military command and control (C2) but POGO’s recommendation has some merit. The two reasons why soldiers don’t do this static protection work for the Embassy — (1) it’s not in the military’s remit to do so and (2) they don’t have the personnel. With all the on-going and pained debate about getting more civilian help and State personnel on reconstruction teams around Afghanistan, it’s a sad statement about State that they can’t even fill their security jobs at the Embassy properly and that this is not a new conundrum for them. Private security is State’s Achilles’ heel.