A week after photographs emerged of U.S. Embassy guards in Afghanistan taking part in raucous, drunken parties, there is a new allegation that some may have been involved in sex trafficking.
James Gordon, who formerly worked with the private security company ArmorGroup North America, raised that prospect in a lawsuit against the company, which guards the embassy in Kabul.
Gordon's whistle-blower retaliation lawsuit says he was forced out of the company in February 2008 after he attempted to raise the issues within the firm and to the State Department.
Gordon, a retired army captain from New Zealand, says the road to the courthouse wasn't an easy one for him. Before filing suit Thursday, he says he tried repeatedly to raise red flags with ArmorGroup North America, its parent company, Wackenhut Services Inc., and the State Department to talk about the need for a more professional guard force at the embassy.
A former director of operations for ArmorGroup, Gordon alleges that the company lowballed its bid for the contract and then understaffed its guard corps. ArmorGroup was awarded the $189 million embassy security contract in 2007.
"Their goal was to do everything they could do to prevent the State Department from discovering their multiple contract violations and operational shortcomings. Their goal was to maximize their profits, provide a fig leaf of security at the embassy and pray to God that nobody got killed," Gordon told reporters in Washington. He was speaking from Kabul, where he is working with a different security company, which he did not name.
Gordon described an atmosphere of lawlessness in the ArmorGroup guard force and said several of them frequented brothels and may have been involved in sex trafficking.
He says he alerted the State Department in 2007 after hearing about one guard in training, who was interested in joining the force "because he knew someone who owned prostitutes there."
"This trainee boasted that he could purchase a girl for $20,000 and turn a profit after a month," Gordon said.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley would not comment on the allegations of sex trafficking. At his daily briefing Thursday, Crowley said he did not want to speak to an issue that is now part of a lawsuit. However, he defended the department, saying, "We have aggressively overseen this contract beginning on Day 1 back in July of 2007."
Wackenhut Services said in a statement that Gordon had voluntarily resigned and that his allegations were "overstated, ill founded and not based on any personal knowledge." Two ex-Marines who worked for ArmorGroup in Kabul settled with the company after they sued for wrongful termination in a similar whistle-blower case.
Gordon's lawyer, Debra Katz, said the State Department claims to have zero tolerance for this sort of behavior but did nothing to rein in "rogue violators."
"If you are going to send these people over here on [Department of State or Department of Defense] contracts, you better have the appropriate oversight to ensure that we are not going over there and starting cottage industries of brothels and trafficking of women," Katz said in a news conference announcing the lawsuit.
After the Project on Government Oversight reported last week that some of the guards and their managers were taking part in drunken hazing rituals, the State Department began interviewing the guards one by one. Crowley says since then 16 people have been removed or have resigned.
He also said that the State Department filed nine formal complaints to ArmorGroup North America over the past couple of years to address various concerns, including the fact that many of the guards do not speak English. Crowley said the company responded each time in a way that satisfied the State Department.
"It's important that at no time in our view was the security of the embassy ever threatened or compromised," Crowley said.