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Last week, an independent watchdog called the Project on Government Oversight revealed what it descried at lewd behavior by U.S. Embassy guards in Afghanistan. Now, there are claims that the misconduct may have involved sex trafficking.
That's an allegation raised by a whistleblower who formerly worked with the private security company that guards the embassy in Kabul. The whistleblower has just filed a wrongful termination case against the company.
And we have more this morning from NPR's Michele Kelemen.
MICHELE KELEMEN: James Gordon, a retired army captain from New Zealand, says the road to the courthouse has not been an easy one for him. Before suing his former employer, ArmorGroup North America, he said he tried repeatedly to raise red flags, both with the company and with the State Department about the need for a more professional guard force at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. In the end, Gordon says, he felt vilified and driven out of work because he believes the company had other goals.
Mr. JAMES GORDON (Former employee, ArmorGroup North America): Their goal was to do everything they could do to prevent the State Department from discovering their multiple contractual 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.
KELEMEN: Gordon spoke from Kabul, where he's working a different security company, which he did not name. He described an atmosphere of lawlessness in the ArmorGroup North America guard force and said several of them frequented brothels and may have been involved in sex trafficking.
He alerted the State Department in 2007 after hearing about one guard in training who was interested to join the force because some guards reportedly owned prostitutes.
Mr. GORDON: This trainee boasted that he could purchase a girl for $20,000 and turn a profit after a month.
KELEMEN: One of Gordon's lawyers, Debra Katz, says the State Department claims to have zero tolerance for this sort of behavior, but did nothing to rein in those she called rogue violators.
Ms. DEBRA KATZ (Lawyer): If you're going to send these people over here under DOS or DOD contracts, you better have the appropriate oversight to ensure that we're not going over there and starting cottage industries of brothels and trafficking of women.
KELEMEN: At the State Department yesterday, spokesman P.J. Crowley wouldn't comment on the specific allegations of sex trafficking. He said he didn't want to speak to an issue that's now part of a lawsuit. But he insisted the State Department has done its job overseeing this contract.
Mr. P.J. CROWLEY (Assistant Secretary, State Department): We have had concerns about this contract over time, both related to performance and conduct. And we have aggressively overseen this contract beginning on day one, back in July of 2007.
KELEMEN: After a nonprofit watchdog, 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 that 16 people have been removed or have resigned.
He also said that over the past couple of years the State Department filed nine formal complaints to ArmorGroup North America for various concerns - the lack of English-speaking guards, for instance. Crowley said the company responded each time in a way that satisfied the State Department.
Mr. CROWLEY: It's important that at no time in our view, you know, was the security of the embassy ever threatened or compromised.
KELEMEN: In response to the latest whistleblower law suit, Wackenhut Services, ArmorGroup's parent company, said in a statement that James Gordon voluntarily resigned and that his allegations were, quote, "overstated, ill-founded and not based on any personal knowledge." Two other former ArmorGroup employees, both of them ex-Marines, settled with the company after they sued for wrongful termination in a similar whistleblower case.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.
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