(RFE/RL) -- Scantily-clad security guards dancing around a bonfire and urinating while others snap photographs. A video of other guards pouring alcohol down the bare backside of a new recruit and trying to drink it as it spills from the man's buttocks.
The images, which flashed around the world this week, appear to show security guards employed at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in some highly embarrassing moments.
But there's more to it than that.
The images are part of a report by the independent watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight, delivered to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week.
The group, citing e-mails, photos, videos, and witness accounts, accuses private security contractor ArmorGroup North America, which provides security guards for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, of "grossly deficient" management that it says poses "a significant threat to the security of the embassy and its personnel -- and thereby to the diplomatic mission in Afghanistan."
'Lord Of The Flies'
The Project on Government Oversight characterized the atmosphere among the private security guards in Kabul as a "Lord of The Flies environment," in reference to the allegorical novel by William Golding in which schoolboys stuck on a deserted island turn into sadists, against a backdrop of fear and chaos.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly devoted a large part of his September 2 press briefing to the allegations. He said the State Department was investigating.
"We take these allegations extremely seriously. In fact, we've documented a number of management concerns through our ongoing oversight of this particular contract," Kelly said.
"There are a number of investigations that are under way, both here and out in Kabul. And we expect to see prompt and effective action taken, as a result of these investigations, and we expect that there will be some changes."
Kelly, however, emphasized that "the embassy in Kabul has been well protected. We believe Americans, host nationals, and others working at Embassy Kabul have had the security that they need."
Contractors Under Fire
Private security contractors are under increasing scrutiny in Washington. An August report by the Congressional Research Service found that Pentagon contractors now outnumber U.S. uniformed soldiers in Afghanistan by the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in U.S. history.
About 1,000 U.S. diplomats, staff, and Afghan nationals work at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. About 150 guards are Americans or from other English-speaking countries. The remaining 300 are identified by the Project on Government Oversight as Gurkhas from northern India and Nepal -- some of whom speak little or no English.
The executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, Danielle Brian, told U.S. television that the incidents her organization recorded are "not just a bunch of guys who are blowing off steam. It's supervisors who are...predatory, who are engaging young recruits into this really weird, deviant behavior."
Brian added: "When these guys are on duty and they're guarding the embassy, there's a total lack of trust and respect for their leadership, a total breakdown in the command structure, so that if there were some sort of incident that they have to respond to, they no longer have that level of trust to protect each other with their lives, which is what we're asking them to do."
ArmorGroup is a subsidiary of the Florida-based Wackenhunt Services, which did not comment on the report. It is under a five-year, $189 million contract that was extended in June through July next year.
The State Department's Kelly said that his colleagues made the decision to renew that contract based on the information that they had at the time.
But he said they were disappointed by some of the "disgusting photos" of guards' alleged lewd behavior.
The Project on Government Oversight has recommended that Clinton ask for Pentagon supervision of the Kabul Embassy's security. During the past month, the embassy was targeted in a rocket attack and a suicide attack nearby killed seven people and injured 19 others.