State Department Responds to ArmorGroup Allegations

| Tue Sep. 1, 2009 5:08 PM EDT

When State Department spokesman Ian Kelly woke up this morning, he may have been anticipating some tough queries from reporters. But he probably wasn't expecting to field questions about US embassy guards in Kabul engaging in what the Project on Government Oversight has described as "deviant hazing and humiliation," acts that allegedly included "peeing on people, eating potato chips out of ass cracks, vodka shots out of ass cracks."

"These are very serious allegations and we are treating them that way," Kelly told reporters at a briefing this afternoon, after POGO sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton detailing a host of charges relating to ArmorGroup's $189 million contract to provide security for the US embassy in Kabul. Kelly said Clinton had been informed of the allegations and noted that the matter had been referred to the State Department's Inspector General. Kelly added that the State Department has "zero tolerance for the type of conduct that is alleged in these documents."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Yet the State Department seems to have had quite a bit of tolerance for ArmorGroup's lapses. As one reporter pointed out at the briefing, internal State Department documents, dating back to 2007, have raised serious concerns about ArmorGroup's handling of the embassy contract. In July 2007, the State Department alerted the company that it had found "defincies" in its work that "endanger performance of the contract to such a degree that the security of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is in jeopardy." In September 2008, the agency threatened to terminate the contract outright because the company had provided too few guards.

Despite ArmorGroup's track record, deputy assistant secretary of state for logistics management William Moser told a Senate panel in June that "at no time was the security of American personnel at the US embassy compromised." He claimed that "we worked with Armor Group" to correct the problems that had been identified. And he maintained that "the performance on the ground by ArmorGroup, North America has been and is sound."

There's surely nothing sound about the allegations POGO's investigation turned up. And it's not as if the watchdog group is relying on the claims of a few disgruntled employees, either. According to POGO, nearly a tenth of the company's embassy 450-person security force individually contacted the group with a host of serious concerns. 

So why did Moser go out of his way to defend AmorGroup to Congress? "I'll have to ask Mr. Moser," Kelly told reporters. "I'm not exactly sure what he was basing his determination on." I'm looking forward to finding out. I bet Secretary Clinton is too.

UPDATE: Here are the jaw-dropping photos. NSFW.

Follow Daniel Schulman on Twitter.