In September 2009, a series of shocking sex and alcohol scandals came to light within the U.S. Embassy in Kabul regarding a company called AGNA (ArmorGroup North America). In 2007, it was awarded a five-year $189,000,000.00 contract by the U.S. State Department to provide a private security force for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. As reported in Kabul Press on November 15, 2009, the allegations against AGNA also included counter-intelligence failures, security breaches and a rumor that an Embassy security subcontractor to AGNA was operating a local brothel. Allegations of mismanagement and poor performance by AGNA have been circulating within the State Department for years, but the company remained under the protection of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Logistics, William H. Moser, and his boss, Under Secretary of State for Management, Patrick F. Kennedy.
In September 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stepped in. She directed two separate investigations into the AGNA scandals and vowed that the investigations would be prompt and thorough. Today, four months later, the public still waits for the results of those two investigations.
It would appear that both investigations were completed a month ago because three weeks ago the State Department announced it was terminating AGNA’s contract, but in the same notice the State Department announced that it was extending the AGNA contract until January 1, 2012. Apparently, the term “fired,” in State Department parlance, means being retained for another year.
The State Department’s stated reason for extending AGNA’s contract is that it will take more than a year to hire another security contractor (which is simply not true). If for some reason AGNA were to go bankrupt tomorrow, it is a virtual certainty that the State Department would have a replacement on duty within a few days.
If all this sounds suspicious, it is. Pieces of this puzzle remain concealed from the public. The speculation is that AGNA, which has access to Embassy secrets and perhaps embarrassing information regarding Embassy officials, has been able to reach a backroom deal with the State Department. As we will detail, the public “firing” of AGNA appears to be more farce than fact.
In December 8, 2009, an e-mail was sent to AGNA employees by Kabul project manager, Frank Schaddelee, [it is available for viewing at www.politico.com]. In the e-mail, Schaddelee seeks to comfort his employees by informing them that their employment contracts would likely be simply transferred to whatever entity wins the follow-on contract. He wrote: “you will continue your employment, but change uniforms.” This suggests that the “firing” of AGNA was little more than a publicity stunt, as the actors will all likely remain the same. They will simply be operating under a different corporate name. AGNA is one of several companies with the “ArmorGroup” name. Another company operating in Afghanistan is ArmorGroup Services Ltd. They both appear to be owned by a company called G4S, which is a massive holding company for dozens of security companies around the world.
The Schaddellee e-mail recounts conversations with U.S. Embassy personnel in which they apologize for the termination. They assert that it is all due to politics and not to any performance problems by AGNA. The e-mail reveals that the State Department has not learned any lessons from its scandals, and that reform is the last thing on its collective mind. It simply engages in damage control.
Regardless, the decision to “terminate” AGNA is a cunning maneuver by the State Department. It fooled MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who went on American television in December 2009, to praise the State Department for finally firing AGNA. Ms. Maddow unfortunately failed to read the fine print on this termination. Also fooled were Politico’s Laura Rozen, Mother Jones’ Daniel Schulman and the Associated Press’ Richard Lardner. Their superficial reporting was everything the State Department could have hoped for.
Some in the news media, in contrast, did notice the smell of rotting fish. One of them was CBS News correspondent, Sharyl Attkisson. As far back as September 2009, she reported that the brother of recently retired State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard is on the Board of Directors for AGNA. Ms. Attkisson also learned that the Inspector General’s office failed to investigate numerous complaints about AGNA. Inspector General Krongard denied any link between his office’s failure to investigate and the fact that the target company was being overseen by his brother.
Call in the Marines
Due to a lack of transparency within the State Department, and the continuing abuses by its private mercenary forces, this author recommends that the State Department scrap any plans to retain or replace AGNA. Instead, the U.S. Marines should return to guard the Embassy and its diplomats. This is an option that the Kabul Press has been championing. U.S. Marines have traditionally guarded U.S. embassies and this tradition should be revived in Kabul.