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Lieberman Gave State IG Whistleblower Documents on ArmorGroup in 2007

John Gorman, the former ArmorGroup Kabul project manager turned whistleblower whose allegations against the company I wrote about yesterday, met with aides to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in 2007 to share with the Government Affairs Committee chairman his account of widespread fraud with the company State chose to protect its Kabul embassy.

CBS News confirms that Lieberman’s staff met with Gorman on Nov. 7, 2007. In a statement issued to the network, the senator’s office says it gave the State Department inspector general, Howard “Cookie” Krongard, a letter and supporting documentation from Gorman about ArmorGroup’s breaches of contract. It’s not clear what action State took in response, and I’ve asked for a clarification on that question. As it happens, though, November 2007 was a hectic time for the IG: he was about to resign his office after I caught him lying to Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) oversight committee about his knowledge of brother Buzzy’s position on the board of another State Department security contractor — Blackwater. But could the IG’s office have simply lost or forgot about the documents in the transition?

The Washington Independent has obtained Gorman’s letter to Lieberman. In it, he calls ArmorGroup a “microcosm of all that is wrong with this war,” and blasts his former employer’s “colonial attitude.” Notice the date of the letter, July 18, which is barely a month after Gorman was fired for informing an embassy security officer of ArmorGroup’s laxity. The letter, along with some added emphasis:

July 18, 2007

Honorable Senator Leiberman,

I signed on as a private contractor with ArmorGroup North America on April 4th 2007.

At that time I was enthusiastic about the contribution I would be making in the war on terrorism in my capacity as Camp Commandant of the force tasked with providing security for the US Embassy in Kabul.

ArmourGroup (AG) is a publicly-traded British owned company that has been in the security business for 25 years. ArmourGroup North America (AGNA) was established by AG about three years ago in order to bid on State Department Contracts. It is located in McLean VA. just a few miles from Washington DC. By ridiculously under-bidding the competition, on March 24, 2007 AGNA was awarded the contract to provide security for the American embassy in Kabul. The take-over date was eventually set for July 1, 2007.

By the mid-April a management team of three career Marines, myself included, was in Kabul to begin the transition process with the incumbent force. The Project Manager had actually been sent in January prior to the award of the contract.

Immediately the problems and consequences of drastically under-bidding the contract became apparent. These problems were amplified by **the almost complete absence of operational experience within the AGNA headquarters staff **and their complete unwillingness to heed the advice and concerns of those on the ground with long careers in the business.

I quickly found myself sitting in the middle of a microcosm of all that is wrong with this war, and all that is wrong in the world. I hardly know where to begin in describing just how much is wrong with this operation and AGNA as a security provider. I will only mention my revulsion for the colonial attitude that prevails within corporate headquarters and confine my comments to operational concerns directly relating to the security of the embassy.

In any interaction I have had with corporate level AGNA no one ever mentioned or indicated a concern for the actual security of the Embassy – the greatest and only concerns were the margin and the bottom line. The person AGNA sent to Kabul to do the security survey prior to submitting the bid on this contract was just another bean counter with no operational or security experience. AGNA won the security contract by submitting a ridiculously low bid that basically ignored operational realities. They misled the government by alluding to and claiming a depth of experience, possession of assets, and level of support that simply does not exist. Having won the bid they fully intended to stand up a security force for the US Embassy in Kabul with a minimal crew, absolutely no reserve strength, and no margin for error. Who in their right mind would pin their trust on a plan that has no margin for error? It makes little sense in peace time environment, and none at all in a war zone.

The previous contractor worked with five shifts: three eight-hour shifts per day, one shift off duty and one shift on leave. The AGNA contract states that no person shall be required to work more than twelve hours per day or have less than twelve hours off between shifts.

By starting at the maximum allowable shift length, and no reserve capacity in the event of emergency the die is cast for all manner of disaster. This is an unsustainable schedule and puts the security of the embassy at immediate risk. Twelve hours is too long for a man to be on a static post and expected to be effective. For short periods it may work, but as a standing schedule, it is a formula for disaster. Static security is inherently monotonous, and all studies done in this area indicate that effectiveness begins to decline after four hours. This decline can be expected to occur even quicker in the heat and dust of Afghanistan. Even if effectiveness did not decline after four hours the actual preparation time for going on duty and travel to and from the embassy eliminates about two hours of the twelve hours “off duty.” The Director of Operations, Michael O’Connell, a man with no operational experience, defended this schedule by arguing that preparation and travel is part of any job with a commute. This argument does not hold water, particularly when preparation means unit inspection, and commute means traveling through hostile territory where one is most likely to be attacked or hit with an IED.

The hiring of new guards for this contract has been marked by fraud, deception and incompetence. At least one person has been hired and put through classified DOS training without having provided essential identification verification or having his background checked. Others have subsequently been sent home for failing the background investigation

Without exception the input and advice of the Project Manager, a man with 30-years Marine Corps experience as well as five years experience as a private contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been ignored, second guessed and rejected. In the end, that ignored advice has always come back to haunt.

On June 11th the Project Manager, the Deputy Project Manager and myself were again attempting to address our concerns with, Mr. O’Connell, regarding the security of the embassy, and safety and welfare of the men on the guard force. Specifically we knew the manning level was too low. The 12 hour shift was not sustainable in the environment in which it was being employed. It would result in a reduced level of attention and an increased level of burn-out. In the event of an emergency there would be no back-up force. These factors when combined with a too-tight leave rotation and AGNA’s notorious inability to pay correctly or on time would result in high attrition and ultimately program failure. For weeks we had been pressing for a larger guard force without results. On this day while we were trying once again to make our point, Mr. O’Connell responded by pointing out that ArmourGroup was a publicly traded company, and we could not hire more people because he had a responsibility to the share holders. At this point I realized that our efforts were in vain and if the situation was going to be corrected we need to take or concerns directly to the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the embassy, a State Department employee.

When Mr. O’Connell first arrived in Kabul about a week earlier, although his stated purpose was to help fix problems and move the contract forward I suspected his real purpose was to replace us, the management team, because we would not play the corporate game and turn a blind eye on the fraud deceptions and incompetence that characterized AGNA and the execution of the embassy contract. He scheduled numerous meetings with us, ostensibly to address our concerns but showed up for none of them. I became convinced we were running out of time when I got wind of a meeting O’Connell had scheduled with the incumbent leadership, to which we had not been invited. On the evening of June 12th the three of us made a pre-emptive trip to the embassy and made our report to the RSO. At that point AGNA was scheduled to assume the security contract for the American Embassy in Kabul in less than two weeks – A contract worth $187 million a year. They were also in the final bidding process for a $500 million contract in Iraq. Our report placed both of those contracts in jeopardy. ** It also placed our personal safety at some risk if we were found out**. Given the gravity of what we were reporting and the financial impact it could have on ArmourGroup, the RSO asked if we wanted to stay in his apartment on the embassy compound until we could get flights out of Afghanistan. We instead requested that he hold the information until we were gone. We returned to the compound we had been housed in since our arrival in Afghanistan.

As it turned out my assessment of our time running out proved accurate. The following morning we were awakened by Mr. O’Connell’s knock on our doors. In a nutshell, he told we were done and handed tickets for a flight that left Kabul in an hour. As this did not leave sufficient time to pack or get to the airport we refused to comply. Subsequently we were restricted to the compound (house arrest?) and an attempt was made to confiscate our embassy passes. These we refused to surrender. Our flights were rescheduled and we left Kabul the next afternoon. As the tickets were purchased prior to us making our report to the RSO we surmised that he and AGNA had anticipated our intent to make a report, and the tickets and compound restriction were classic AGNA – an incompetent attempt to prevent us from doing so. When we boarded the plane and left Kabul we were confident the RSO had guarded the information we had provided.

After dismissing us and before our actual departure, Mr. O’Connell and ArmourGroup began taking steps to correct the shortages and deceptions we had been trying to get corrected for months. They had to if they wished to salvage the contract.

All warnings that we presented AGNA went unheeded until we were dismissed. Those warnings have since been materializing to an even greater extent than we had predicted. On the very day ArmourGroup assumed security of the embassy, they were out of compliance with multiple key elements of the contract and continue to be so. Why they have been allowed to proceed is a question I believe well worth investigating.

The events described in this letter** in no way constitute a complete itemization of the fraud and deception AGNA has knowingly and deliberately perpetrated on the government and the US tax payer**. And have so far been allowed to continue. I suspect there are careers on both sides of this contract that are being protected, and possibly inappropriate financial investments as well.

Sincerely,

John P. Gorman

USMC (Ret)

*You can follow TWI on Twitter and Facebook. *

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