Despite Drawdown, Big Bucks for Baghdad Embassy Security
When it comes to diplomatic security, contractors are a hard habit for the State Department to break. According to a new audit by the department’s Office of the Inspector General, or IG, the department has paid one company — Triple Canopy — a whopping $438 million to guard the embassy in Baghdad since mid-2005.
The report does not contain any damning allegations, like the Animal House-style antics of contracted guard force at the Kabul embassy. But it does give insight into the size of the force that is required to provide security for the Vatican-sized compound on the Tigris. What’s more, it suggests that the embassy has poorly planned for the anticipated U.S. drawdown in Iraq, meaning the government will pay a “projected unnecessary cost” of around $20 million to maintain the contract guard force in Baghdad.
All told, the company currently has around 1,800 employees dedicated to embassy security in Baghdad. Around 1,600 of them are from either Uganda or Peru. And that presents something of a problem: The report found that the contracting officer’s representative — a government employee who is supposed to exercise oversight — “does not enforce contractually required standards for guards’ English language profi ciency.”
And that, potentially, could be a problem if English-language supervisors can’t communicate with guards, especially during an emergency.
Hiring “third country nationals,” or TCNs, as guards is not an uncommon practice in Iraq: Ugandans are perhaps best known for guarding the entrances to military dining facilities in Iraq. Companies like Triple Canopy hire them because they are relatively cheap, compared to U.S. or European expatriates. But the TCNs, apparently, don’t complain as much about working conditions either.
The IG, for instance, faulted Triple Canopy for not providing adequate housing, saying that Triple Canopy “houses guards in unsafe conditions.” Guards, the report says, “live in crowded barracks and shipping containers that exceed occupancy limits by more than 400 percent.”
Generally speaking, the IG said Triple Canopy “performs well” in areas where the State Department properly performs oversight. More than anything, it suggests that State’s oversight, not necessarily the contractor’s performance, is the bigger issue. Triple Canopy, as well, seems to have learned from the repeated public relations disasters of competitors like Xe (a.k.a. Blackwater): It maintains a more low-key, corporate image, complete with a spiffy, Lockheed Martin-style logo, seen in the screenshot here.