Cowboys of Kabul Plead Guilty, But the Ride Ain't Over

| Wed Sep. 16, 2009 10:37 AM EDT

Less than two weeks before they were scheduled to stand trial, Del and Barbara Spier pleaded guilty to charges of defrauding the US government in connection with their company's security operation in Afghanistan. In July, I detailed how the Texas grandparents, bankrupt as of 2002, cashed in on the contracting bonanza with a little help from their friends at the Louis Berger Group. The construction firm, selected by USAID to rebuild crucial parts of Afghanistan's bombed-out infrastructure, handed the Spiers' company, US Protection and Investigations (USPI), a noncompete contract to protect its employees and subcontractors in the field. In the years that followed, the Justice Department charged, the Spiers proceeded to systematically bilk the government, billing for nonexistent expenses from fictitious companies and inflating the number of Afghan guards on their payroll.

USPI's shady business practices extended beyond fraud. The company cut deals with local militia commanders (one of them accused of a range of wrongdoing, including the attempted kidnapping of Afghanistan's then-attorney general), paying their men a per diem in exchange for performing guard duties. Many of these ragtag soldiers were ill-trained, their loyalties shaky. Some apparently used their authority to engage in criminal activity, including drug trafficking and petty shakedowns. Ex-USPI supervisors I spoke with had no illusion that these guards would hold their ground if the going got tough. "If it came down to a firefight, they would have bailed on us," one told me. 

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