WASHINGTON — A wide-ranging State Department inquiry into allegations of lewd behavior and sexual misconduct among the private security contractors guarding the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan could lead to the termination of the company's $189 million contract, a department spokesman said Wednesday.
The allegations made by an independent watchdog group describe "Lord of the Flies" conditions that include threats and intimidation and scenes of guards and supervisors in various stages of nudity at parties flowing with alcohol.
In at least one case, supervisors brought prostitutes into the quarters where the guards live, a serious breach of security and discipline, the Project on Government Oversight said. In other instances, members of the guard force have drawn Afghans into activities forbidden by Muslims, such as drinking alcoholic beverages.
"We expect to see prompt and effective action taken as a result of these investigations," the spokesman, Ian C. Kelly, told reporters. Other possible actions include rebidding the contract or replacing individual guards and supervisors employed by the contractor, ArmorGroup North America, he said.
The State Department inspector general is leading the investigation of ArmorGroup. U.S. officials in Kabul are also conducting a review, Kelly said. And a team from the State Department's diplomatic security, management and contracting offices will go to Kabul to examine the situation.
ArmorGroup and the State Department came under fire Tuesday after the watchdog group said that the nearly 450 ArmorGroup guards live and work in an oppressive environment in which they are subjected to hazing and other inappropriate behavior by supervisors.
The situation has led to a breakdown in morale and leadership that compromises security at the embassy where nearly 1,000 U.S. diplomats, staff and Afghan nationals work, according to the nonprofit group.
With insurgent attacks in Afghanistan increasing, any lapses in security put the diplomatic mission there at risk, the group said in a 10-page letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that details the results of its investigation of the guard force.
The State Department has been aware of ArmorGroup's failings, the letter said, but has failed to correct the problems. Instead, it has renewed the contract twice, with the most recent installment good through July 2010.
Kelly acknowledged that ArmorGroup has been notified eight times of poor performance since the original contract was awarded in March 2007.
Wackenhut Services, ArmorGroup North America's parent company, has not responded to requests for comment.
The Project on Government Oversight's findings are based on interviews with ArmorGroup guards, documents, photographs and e-mails that it said depict a "Lord of the Flies" environment. The reference is to the 1954 novel by William Golding about a group of British schoolboys who are stranded on a desert island and try, but fail, to govern themselves in a chaotic setting.
One e-mail message from a guard describes lurid conditions at Camp Sullivan, the guards' quarters a few miles from the embassy. The message described scenes of abuse, including guards and supervisors urinating on people and "threats and intimidation from those leaders participating in this activity."
Photographs show guards and supervisors in various stages of nudity at parties that took place near the housing of other supervisors.
"There were some things going on in Kabul that we were not aware of, but we frankly should have been aware of," Kelly said.