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IG: U.S. employed insurgent-backing contractors

Nov. 15, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Afghan National Army soldiers follow from a distance the release of prisoners from the Parwan Detention Facility. Employees of a contractor with alleged links to insurgents were allowed access to the Parwan Justice Center Complex, which includes a U.S.-run prison at Bagram Airfield, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
Afghan National Army soldiers follow from a distance the release of prisoners from the Parwan Detention Facility. Employees of a contractor with alleged links to insurgents were allowed access to the Parwan Justice Center Complex, which includes a U.S.-run prison at Bagram Airfield, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP)
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A contractor accused of helping insurgents make improvised explosive devices for use against NATO forces was allowed to work on a facility in Afghanistan run by the coalition last year.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko warned that gaps in how contractor information is shared by U.S. government agencies supporting Afghan reconstruction efforts could allow insurgents access to coalition facilities again.

According to SIGAR, the issue is much broader, as the U.S. government has paid $150 million to companies in Afghanistan with links to insurgents.

Zurmat Material Testing Laboratory, part of the Zurmat Group, received government funding to build American-controlled facilities in Afghanistan in November 2012, despite being flagged six months earlier by the Department of Commerce because it supplied bomb-making supplies to insurgents, the Nov. 8 letter said.

On Sept. 17, 2012, U.S. Central Command identified the Zurmat Group and its subsidiaries as “actively supporting an insurgency.” Marine Gen. James Mattis, then the CENTCOM commander, invoked the federal law that prohibits U.S. armed forces from contracting with the enemy, and he requested that the Zurmat Group be formally banned from doing business within CENTCOM’s area of operations.

But neither move prevented Zurmat employees from gaining access for two days to the Parwan Justice Center Complex, which includes a U.S.-run prison at Bagram Airfield. SIGAR uncovered the issue in a 2013 audit into the project that uncovered construction defects.

The inspector general in 2012 referred 43 cases to the Army Suspension and Debarment Office because the companies allegedly provided financial support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations in Afghanistan. The Army Suspension and Debarment office has the power to “debar” or blacklist errant contractors.

A coalition memo obtained by Army Times cites the owners of one of companies as “facilitators and operational commanders of the Haqqani Network,” a feared insurgent group. The company’s profits, “approximately $1-2 million per month — flow to [the Haqqani network] to finance its activities.”

However, the Army refused, saying debarring the companies would violate their due process rights if the action was based solely on findings by the Department of Commerce. Regarding classified information, the Army has said supporting evidence must be credible and reliable, and that information attributed to anonymous or unidentified sources is insufficient.

SIGAR has argued that due process requirements that must be met in normal debarment cases may be overridden by national security concerns.

“Based on the evidence available in these cases, the Army’s position is legally dubious, contrary to good public policy and contrary to our security goals in Afghanistan,” Sopko said in his letter to Hagel.

The Army’s position had also rankled a bipartisan group of lawmakers, who sent a letter to the Army a year ago “expressing concern” about a backlog at the Army Suspension and Debarment office.

“The idea that U.S. taxpayer dollars are flowing into the hands of terrorist groups bent on killing Americans is unthinkable and unacceptable,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a member of the Senate’s Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, said in a statement.

“The Inspector General’s recent finding that one of the companies it has tried to bar not only received a U.S. contract but also gained access to an American military base in Afghanistan is particularly disturbing,” she said. “This type of activity endangers the lives of our troops and represents a glaring and dangerous security gap.”

The inspector general is asking for his own authority to suspend or debar dubious contractors.

“I am deeply troubled that the U.S. military can pursue, attack and even kill terrorists and their supporters, but that some in the U.S. government believe we cannot prevent these same people from receiving a government contract,” Sopko said in his quarterly report to Congress in July.

The Army said it has “extensive vendor vetting procedures to prevent the awarding of contracts to such vendors,” in a statement to ABC News. It said most of the 43 companies were not awarded any new contracts “as a result of measures currently in place.”

“The Army takes seriously any allegations of improper contractor activities and has vigorous processes to ensure that those with whom we do business are not supporting the insurgency or otherwise opposing U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan” the statement said.

Any entity found to present a threat is considered for designation under Section 841 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, according to Navy Cmdr. Elissa Smith, a DoD spokeswoman at the Pentagon. DoD notifies any relevant prime contractor and subcontractors that contractual agreements will be voided, in accordance with procurement and acquisition policy regulations.

DoD’s vendor vetting process uses a combination of unclassified and classified sources to determine threats to U.S. and coalition personnel.

“We will continue to work with SIGAR and any other party that has information that helps us meet this commitment,” Smith said. “DoD is committed to safeguarding our troops and civilians by taking appropriate actions against any individual or company found to be actively supporting an insurgency or opposing the U.S. or coalition forces in Afghanistan.”

Any entity found to present a threat is considered for designation under Section 841 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, according to Navy Cmdr. Elissa Smith, a DoD spokeswoman at the Pentagon. DoD notifies any relevant prime contractor and subcontractors that contractual agreements will be voided, in accordance with procurement and acquisition policy regulations.

DoD’s vendor vetting process uses a combination of unclassified and classified sources to determine threats to U.S. and coalition personnel.

“We will continue to work with SIGAR and any other party that has information that helps us meet this commitment,” Smith said. “DoD is committed to safeguarding our troops and civilians by taking appropriate actions against any individual or company found to be actively supporting an insurgency or opposing the U.S. or coalition forces in Afghanistan.”

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