Private security contractors who guard the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, have engaged in lewd behavior and hazed subordinates, demoralizing...

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WASHINGTON — Private security contractors who guard the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, have engaged in lewd behavior and hazed subordinates, demoralizing the force and posing a “significant threat” to security, according to an investigation released Tuesday by a government watchdog group.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) launched the inquiry after more than a dozen security guards contacted the group to report misconduct and morale problems within the force of 450 who live at Camp Sullivan, a few miles from the embassy compound.

Wild parties

The report, sent to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, found that supervisors held near-weekly parties in which they urinated on themselves and others, drank vodka poured off each other’s exposed buttocks, fondled and kissed one another and gallivanted around virtually nude. Photos and video of the escapades were released with the investigation.

“The lewd and deviant behavior of approximately 30 supervisors and guards has resulted in complete distrust of leadership and a breakdown of the chain of command, compromising security,” POGO said in the letter.

In another incident, more than a dozen guards in May took weapons, night-vision goggles and other key equipment and engaged in an unauthorized “cowboy” mission in Kabul, leaving the embassy “largely night blind,” POGO wrote.

The guards dressed in Afghan tunics and scarves in violation of contract rules and hid in abandoned buildings in a reconnaissance mission that was not part of their training or mission. Two heads of the guard force later issued a “letter of recognition” praising the men for “conspicuous intrepidity (sic)” with the State Department logo on the letter head.

“They were living out some sort of delusion,” one of the whistle-blower guards said Tuesday from Kabul. “It presented a huge opportunity for an international incident,” said the guard, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution.

Accountability issue

The report recommends Defense Secretary Robert Gates immediately assign U.S. military personnel to supervise the guards and remove management of the present force. It also calls on the State Department to hold accountable diplomatic officials who failed to provide adequate oversight of the contract.

The guards work for ArmorGroup, North America, which has an $180 million annual contract with the State Department to secure the embassy and 1,000 diplomats, staff and Afghan nationals who work there.

Susan Pitcher, a spokeswoman for Wackenhut Services, the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. company that owns ArmorGroup, declined to comment on Tuesday’s POGO report.

Conduct of contractors providing security in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the subject of controversy and other investigations in recent years.

A new Congressional Research Service report has found that as of March, the Defense Department had more contract personnel than troops in Afghanistan.

The 52,300 uniformed U.S. military and 68,200 contractors in Afghanistan at that time “apparently represented the highest recorded percentage of contractors used by DOD (Defense Department) in any conflict in the history of the United States,” the report said.

Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus contributed to this report.