The Washington Times July 30, 2014
The U.S. could be funding the very terrorists in Afghanistan it is fighting because of an Army oversight process that’s so bad it’s not weeding out businesses connected to insurgents, a top watchdog warned Wednesday. In one instance, a contractor identified as being connected to insurgents was even given access to a U.S. and allied facility — and got paid for its work — because it hadn’t been prevented from receiving jobs.
In many other cases, individuals and businesses that were found to be connected to insurgents are still eligible to receive contracts and funding from the U.S. government because the Army is not debarring them, said the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko.
“The Army’s refusal to suspend or debar supporters of the insurgency from receiving government contracts because the information supporting these recommendations is classified is not only legally wrong, but contrary to sound policy and national-security goals,” Mr. Sopko wrote in the inspector general’s quarterly report on the state of U.S. rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan.
“It is troubling that our government can and does use classified information to arrest, detain, and even kill individuals linked to the insurgency in Afghanistan, but apparently the same classified information cannot be used to deny these same individuals their rights to contract work with the U.S. government,” he said.
Mr. Sopko said he is urging the Pentagon to change the “misguided policy” and to “impose common sense” on the suspension and debarment program.
SIGAR reported last year that during an inspection of the construction of a courthouse, it learned that the main company in charge had hired an Afghanistan-based subcontractor that had been deemed to pose “a threat to U.S. and Coalition forces.”
Workers for the contractor were given access to the courthouse site despite being involved in “networks that provide components used to make improvised explosive devices,” according to the Commerce Department’s list of terrorism-connected companies. SIGAR has raised warnings repeatedly about terrorism-connected businesses.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last year, Mr. Sopko took issue with the Army’s position that the classified information that connects businesses to terrorists should not be used to debar those businesses.
“Since September 2012, SIGAR has sought the debarment of 43 foreign individuals and companies identified as providing support to insurgents in Afghanistan,” he wrote. “To date, the U.S. Army has rejected all of these requests,” including a request to debar the contractor that later gained access to the courthouse site.
Army officials have “rejected SIGAR’s requests because it is concerned that suspending or debarring these individuals and companies would violate their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution,” Mr. Sopko’s letter said.
He called the Army’s position “legally dubious, contrary to good public policy and contrary to our security goals in Afghanistan.”
SIGAR resubmitted the contractor for debarment, but it looks like no action has been taken. The company’s website still lists it as a partner of American government organizations such as USAID. The New York Times estimates that the company has received about $150 million in business from the U.S. government.
SIGAR has issued its warning as the U.S. withdraws most of its troops and equipment from Afghanistan. Since the start of combat operations in 2001, the U.S. has spent more than $100 billion on aid and reconstruction efforts for the war-torn nation.