Homoerotic ’Hazing’ Turns U.S. Kabul Embassy into ’Animal House’

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday September 3, 2009

The mainstream media have picked up on the story of how employees of a private security contractor working for the U.S. State Department in Kabul allegedly engage in 'Animal House' antics that make duty in Afghanistan look like a frat-boy party.

But before MSNBC, including Rachel Maddow, got hold of the story, a gossip site on the Internet had covered it: wild videos and all.

Maddow's segment on the story calls it "good news" that the individuals allegedly engaged in the hijinks are not U.S. servicemembers; however, Maddow calls it "bad news" that the employees of the private security contractor draw their pay from a federal contract worth $180 million per year.

Gawker.com posted a Sept. 1 story titled, "Our Embassy in Afghanistan Is Guarded by Sexually Confused Frat Boys." The first paragraph claimed that "security contractors [guarding U.S. State Dept. facilities in Kabul] get their kicks peeing on one another, simulating anal sex, doing 'butt shots,' and "eating potato chips out of ass cracks."

Gawker got its material from the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), which had prepared a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and given a press conference detailing "deviant hazing [that] has created a climate of fear and coercion, with those who declined to participate often ridiculed, humiliated, demoted, or even fired."

The guards in question are reportedly employees of security contractor ArmorGroup North America, which Gawker reports is "a unit of contracting giant Wackenhut;" the antics extended to the men drinking shots of vodka poured down one anothers' backsides, the story said.

Read the article, "Most of it appears to have been voluntary, but those who didn't really want to drink vodka shots out of the clenched butt-cheeks of their male co-workers were penalized and reported barricading themselves in their rooms."

The article included photos, obtained from Mother Jones magazine, that showed the men in various states of undress and wielding bottles.

A follow-up article at Gawker posted Sept. 2 noted that in the wake of the story breaking there, the U.S. State Department had announced an investigation into the alleged conduct of the guards.

The article said that MSNBC's Glynnis MacNicol and Contessa Brewer had credited Gawker with sparking the investigation, even though POGO had tried to get the mainstream media interested in the story before the Gawker item broke the news.

"MacNicol's hilarious (if flattering) headline," read the Gawker article, was, "Does the Long Arm of Gawker Reach the State Department?"

The site reported that Brewer commented to MacNicol, "The question that you guys have raised on the [MSNBC] web site [Mediaite] today is whether... it took Gawker posting the pictures to prompt the State Department to take action."

The Gawker item took steps to clarify that the site was not "fed" the images it posted by POGO "as part of a deliberate media strategy," going on to note that the MSNBC version of events included the claim that, "What may be the most interesting part of all this is that POGO chose to 'provide' Gawker with those pictures early on, when no doubt there are plenty of mainstream organizations who would have been happy to pick up.

"Someone at POGO knows their new media stuff: Gawker is the online tastemaker and is capable of immediately getting a story out to a large, connected audience, who will pay attention and quickly pass it on," the MSNBC report continued.

"Ah, if only it were that coordinated," the Gawker article read.

Gawker then explained step by step.

"Here's how it happened:

"1. The Project on Government did an enormous amount of work uncovering a pattern of coercive and unprofessional behavior at ArmorGroup North America, including "extensive interviews with eyewitnesses, and examination of documents, photographs, videos, and emails." POGO's executive director, Danielle Brian, assembled that work into a letter to Hillary Clinton, which she sent along with attachments, photos and videos. Then she posted the letter on the internet.

"2. We read it. It mentioned a whole bunch of pictures of gross stuff. We wanted to see the pictures!

"3. We called POGO. They are lovely people. Could we see the pictures?

"4. Yes! They e-mailed us the pictures.

"5. They were gross, so we put them on the internet.

"The end. That's how you launch a State Department investigation," the article went on.

"What makes this amusing to us is that POGO held a news conference at 10 a.m. yesterday, six hours before we published the photos," the article added.

"Ten or so reporters showed up. Brian walked them through the letter, and then showed them all the pictures--the self-same pictures that we published--on a projector screen. POGO provided CD-ROMs with the photos to reporters who asked for them. After the conference, the AP, Mother Jones (that's how we initially became aware of the story), and a handful of other outlets ran stories, but no one thought to put the pictures of the guys drinking vodka off the other guys' butts online."

Still another Gawker article, also from Sept. 2, alleged that far from being shocked or surprised at the breaking news, the State Dept. had already learned of the behavior of the guards entrusted with the safety of U.S. personnel and facilities in Kabul.

The article noted that Sen. Claire McCaskill had demanded an investigation, with the State Department promptly starting to talk about "addressing deficiencies in [ArmorGroup's] performance."

However, the article alleges, "the State Department has been investigating ArmorGroup since the beginning of its contract, in July of 2007, when it was found to be 'deficient' and the group was said to 'gravely endanger... performance of guard services.'"

The article cited a Sept. 1 remark from State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly, who was quoted as saying, "We've been investigating this organization for some time now.

"We understand that we have made some--we have pointed out to them some of the deficiencies," Kelly continued. "And I can't answer right now from this podium exactly what they have done in response to this letter."

Read the Gawker article, "The Department again raised concerns in 2008 and then, later, a Senate probe also found problems, like the fact that contractors were abandoning posts.

"Yet, despite these misgivings, the contract went on and was reaffirmed earlier this summer."

The article went on to report that according to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. military, an all-volunteer force that excludes openly gay and lesbian patriots, currently needs contractors like ArmorGroup to make up 57% of its Afghani forces.

"Our military's so depleted and overstretched, the Department has come to rely on these contractors, even if they are man-beasts who get off on eating chips from one another's ass cracks," the Gawker article read.

"The Department relies so much on them, in fact, that it has yet again renewed its contract with Blackwater, which was previously banned from operating in Iraq, where its agents are, among other things, accused of killing 17 civilians."

A Sept. 2 MSNBC article contained further allegations, including claims that guards were being intimidated and harassed by their supervisors, as well as claims that local Afghanis were being included in the parties despite cultural restrictions that forbid Muslims to drink alcohol.

The article also said that supervisors had allowed prostitutes to enter the guards' housing facility, and said that sexually inappropriate "hazing," including individuals being urinated upon, had taken place.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.