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Army Failure to Screen Afghans Found to Risk U.S. Troops

Sgt. 1st Class Eduardo Morales, right, and an Afghan interpreter speak to a villager in Khevejeh Molk, Afghanistan, on Sept. 24, 2010. Karin Brulliard/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Sgt. 1st Class Eduardo Morales, right, and an Afghan interpreter speak to a villager in Khevejeh Molk, Afghanistan, on Sept. 24, 2010. Karin Brulliard/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Jan. 11 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Army failed to ensure that Afghan translators were properly screened at the start of the Obama administration’s troop surge in Afghanistan, endangering soldiers they worked with, according to the Pentagon’s inspector general.

Only 656, or 15 percent, of 4,310 Afghan nationals hired by Columbus, Ohio-based Mission Essential Personnel LLC under a $1.46 billion contract received full counter-intelligence screening in 2009 and 2010, according to a Dec. 7 audit labeled “For Official Use Only.”

President Barack Obama increased U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan by 51,000 during 2009 and 2010. The inspector general began an investigation after a linguist hired by Mission Essential Personnel killed two U.S. Army special forces officers and wounded an aide, all of them unarmed, in January 2010.

The incident predated a spate of “insider attacks” over the past year in which Afghan security personnel or insurgents posing as Afghan forces have attacked U.S. or allied troops. Those incidents have complicated efforts to shift the lead role in fighting to Afghan forces, a goal that Obama and Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai discussed at a White House meeting today.

The Army’s Intelligence and Security Command “did not effectively implement the security requirements” for the translator contract, creating “an increased risk that local nationals hired pose a security threat to U.S. and coalition forces,” Daniel Blair, deputy inspector general for auditing, said in the report to Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno, U.S. Central Command commander Marine Corp General James Mattis and General John Allen, commander of U.S. Afghanistan forces.

‘Thoroughly Vetted’

The inspector general’s report, which hasn’t been made public, didn’t comment on the deadly 2010 attack. Mission Essential Personnel said in a 2011 statement that the linguist in that incident “was thoroughly vetted for this deployment, including medical, psychological and counter-intelligence screening.”

Army Intelligence and Security Command spokesman Ron Young said yesterday in an e-mailed statement that the audit examined “processes that took place prior to October 2010.”

“Shortly after the deficiencies were identified” the command and U.S. Forces Afghanistan “took corrective action and increased” to 100 percent “counter-intelligence screening for all Afghan local national contract linguists.”

The translators also are subject to an annual re-screening, Young said.

Robert Glenn, a spokesman for Mission Essential Personnel, said in an e-mail that the company “strives to provide capable and screened linguists to serve alongside our customers.”

Exceeding Requirements

The company hasn’t received the inspector general’s report and “cannot comment upon it, or any current legal issues or investigations,” Glenn said. “We always seek to meet or exceed customer requirements that help them complete their mission.”

Survivors of the two soldiers slain by a linguist in 2010 filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the company in July 2011. The action is still pending, Brad Henry, an attorney representing the survivors, said in an e-mailed statement.

Intelligence command personnel delayed for two years ensuring the contract required meeting the service’s most recent guidance for thorough counter-intelligence screening of translators, according to the audit.

Escorted Entry

Interpreters and translators hired through Mission Essential Personnel typically received “force protection” screening that allows for temporary, escorted entry on U.S. bases.

The Army in 2008 issued a policy requiring that all linguists undergo more detailed “counter-intelligence” screening that involves rigorous scrutiny of their backgrounds as well as documents, fingerprints, face-to-face interviews and a written record.

Passing this more vigorous screening allows linguists to live 24 hours a day with U.S. troops.

None of 2,155 linguists hired by Mission Essential Personnel in 2009 received such counter-intelligence screening, and 656 of 2,155 did in 2010, after the Army started to incorporate stricter requirements in the contract, the audit found.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Capaccio in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at

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