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Sex and security in Afghanistan
By David Isenberg
A report by the Washington, DC, Project on Government Oversight recently
released publicly tells of the wild naked antics of members of ArmorGroup (AG),
which has a United States State Department contract to provide security for the
US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Hardly mentioned is the use of local bordellos by some contractors. It took a
lawsuit filed on September 9 by James Gordon, a former ArmorGroup director of
operations, and subsequent whistleblower, against ArmorGroup North America
and associated defendants - ArmorGroup International (AGI), Wackenhut Services
Inc (WSI), and various management individuals - to bring details to light.
Among other things he charges that AG:
Allowed AGNA managers and employees to frequent brothels notorious for housing
trafficked women in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and
shutting down the plaintiff's efforts to investigate and put a stop to these
Deliberately withholding documents relating to violations of the Trafficking
Victims Protection Act allegedly committed by AGNA's program manager and other
AGNA employees when responding to a document demand from US Congressman Henry
Waxman on behalf of the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government
This is not the first time issues of private military and security contractors
and sex have come up. But the pattern of not doing anything when offenses are
reported remains depressingly familiar.
As an article in the winter issue of the Wisconsin International Law Journal
recounts, in 2000, employees of DynCorp Inc, a Virginia-based private military
security company (PMSC) employed by the United Nations Police Task Force in the
Balkans, were accused of participating in a Bosnian sex slavery ring. Kathryn
Bolkovac, a DynCorp employee working as a UN Police Force monitor, reported to
her supervisors that her male colleagues had made comments about women they
owned. Bolkovac was fired soon after.
It is worth noting that investigations of DynCorp had begun before Bolkovac
became involved. In 1999, Bosnian police launched an investigation after local
media reported that five male DynCorp employees had purchased female
prostitutes from a Serbian organized crime outfit. The Bosnian government
informed the commander of the US Regional Task Force of the allegations and the
army requested that DynCorp remove the five men within 48 hours.
DynCorp transferred the accused to Germany for investigatory interviews in
response to evidence that the accused employees had not only consorted with
local mobsters and warned them of imminent raids, but had actually engaged in
trafficking themselves. Having effectively removed them from the jurisdiction
of the Bosnian police, DynCorp then released the employees without alerting
American or international law-enforcement officials of the allegations against
them. This satisfied the army.
But at least seven other DynCorp employees, including a supervisor, continued
to engage in sex crimes. After overhearing a fellow helicopter mechanic brag,
"My girl's not a day over 12," then-DynCorp employee Ben Johnston reported this
and other trafficking-related activities to the Army Criminal Investigative
Command (CID) at Camp Comanche in Dubrave, Bosnia.
The CID began an investigation, but quickly determined that the American
military did not have jurisdiction over UN contractor employees. Alerted by
CID, the Bosnian police began an investigation, but mistakenly believed that
they, too, lacked jurisdiction to arrest UN Task Force contractor employees. By
the time the Bosnian police did move to make arrests, the employees in question
had been transferred beyond the reach of local authorities. Like Bolkovac,
Johnston was fired. His supervisors claimed that he had discredited the company
by bringing unsubstantiated charges against his coworkers and that he had
"brought discredit to [Dyncorp] and to the US Army".
In late 2002, Bolkovac won 10,000 pounds sterling (US$16,000 at the current
rate) in damages after a British tribunal found that DynCorp Aerospace UK Ltd,
a subsidiary of DynCorp, violated the United Kingdom's whistle-blowing statute
- the Public Interest Disclosure Act of 1998 - when the company fired her.
DynCorp then agreed to settle a suit brought by Ben Johnston two days before
the case went to trial in Texas. The amount of his settlement is confidential.
Nine of the employees investigated by CID and transferred out of the country by
DynCorp were Americans. Only seven were fired and none were criminally
prosecuted. The employee who had claimed to own a 12-year-old sex slave was
among those investigated and allowed to remain with the company. CID agents
escorted another man to the airport from where he was flown out of the country.
While still in Bosnia, the man had admitted that he had purchased a Moldovan
woman and an Uzi from a local bartender active in the Serbian mob. The employee
was subsequently released from his job with DynCorp but was never charged with
any crime. Unless the implicated employees return to Bosnian jurisdiction, they
cannot be arrested or tried for the trafficking and related sex crimes they
committed in 2000.
In a foreshadowing of the current situation with ArmorGroup, Dyncorp denied any
culpability. However, it did admit to a battle to control its employees. Back
then, DynCorp's selection procedures for choosing employees to work in Bosnia,
which the company claimed was very rigorous and detailed, and subsequent
procedures for checking their conduct in the field, failed to separate, or
later identify, those who were likely, or did, take advantage of the situation
and purchased prostitutes.
DynCorp was not particularly hurt by the scandal. A few weeks after Bolkovac
won her damages, the British government announced a Ministry of Defense
contract award to a consortium that included DynCorp to supply support services
for military firing ranges.
In 2003, it a won multi-million-dollar contract to help train Iraqi police in
post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Although mindful of what happened in Bosnia,
personnel recruited had to acknowledge in writing that human trafficking and
involvement with prostitution "are considered illegal by the international
community and are immoral, unethical and strictly prohibited".
For all the claims of the private military and security sector that they don't
condone such behavior, it is important to note the difference between the
private and public sectors. A 2005 study "Barracks and Brothels: Peacekeepers
and Human Trafficking in the Balkans" by the Washington, DC-based Center for
Strategic and International Studies, noted that in 2004, the US Department of
Defense (DoD), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations
each adopted a zero-tolerance policy on trafficking. It also noted that each of
these organizations "has been reluctant to address the security implications of
misconduct by uniformed service members and civilian contractors, especially
involving human rights abuses".
The report noted that the DoD's Inspector General's formal investigation in
2003 into complicity of DoD personnel in the Balkans was superficial and pro
forma. Had DoD personnel followed the leads they were given, they would have
found evidence of civilian contractor complicity in human trafficking.
In August 2007, there was a brief flap when "Tori" the Escort, from Atlanta,
Georgia, announced she was going to be in Baghdad's Green Zone for an extended
tour. Her post on an escort review message board read, "While in the IZ, I am
in a unique position of entertaining from a secured compound. I'm entertaining
all members of the PMC [private military contractors] community registered with
PSCAI [Private Security Company Association of Iraq] with a few stipulations.
My compound is within the central population and easy to find."
In a statement, Lawrence Peter, director of PSCAI, said Tori's use of the
group's name and logo were unauthorized. "We have not, nor ever will, condone
the type of activity suggested," he said. "We are currently investigating the
source of these allegations and any association member found promoting,
condoning or participating in these activities will be immediately expelled."
With events like these as background it is instructive to consider current
According to Gordon's lawsuit on or about November 8, 2007, ArmorGroup North
America deputy program manager Jimmy Lemon informed Gordon and Puja Power, the
acting director of Human Resources, that AGNA's armorer (the official in charge
of the upkeep of small arms, machine guns and ammunition) was not properly
performing his duties and had recently been forcibly removed during work hours
from a brothel in Kabul. Gordon instructed Ms Power to initiate action to
terminate him at once.
A short time later, Power reported to Gordon that when she confronted the
armorer about his misconduct, he stated that he could not be terminated because
program manager Nick du Plessis and medic Neville Montefiore had frequented
these brothels with him.
Gordon knew that the procurement of commercial sex acts by AGNA employees
violated the laws of the United States and the Kabul Embassy contract. He was
concerned both because the frequenting of brothels by AGNA personnel raised
security concerns about the guard force's ability to safeguard the US Embassy
and because it was well known that young Chinese girls were trafficked to Kabul
for commercial sexual exploitation, in violation of the Trafficking Victims
Protection Act. The act and its implementing regulations prohibit contractors,
like ArmorGroup and their employees, from engaging in severe forms of
trafficking in persons and from procuring commercial sex acts during the period
of performance of the contract.
According to the US State Department's 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report,
Afghanistan is a destination for women and girls from China, Iran and
Tajikistan trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. Afghan children also
are trafficked within the country for sexual exploitation.
Gordon was especially alarmed because the program manager himself, the top
manager in Kabul overseeing the guard force, had been identified as a
participant in these unlawful activities. Gordon realized that if AGNA did not
conduct a thorough investigation and terminate the wrongdoers, members of the
guard force would perceive AGNA's inaction as a license to engage in similar
Gordon immediately reported the information he had received from Power to AGNA
president Karl Semancik and to the Department of State (DoS) and recommended
that AGNA's corporate management commence a thorough investigation of the
matter. Gordon proposed that either he or AGNA's deputy director of operations,
Gregory Vrentas, a former US Army Lieutenant Colonel with the Office of
Military Cooperation-Afghanistan, direct the investigation. Semancik concurred
that this was the appropriate course of action.
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