Monday, December 13, 2010

Horrendous news travels fast!

Posted By on Mon, Dec 13, 2010 at 1:57 PM

Someone has a Google Alert.

DynCorp_International.gif

Thursday, I blogged about a Wikileaks cable that, if to be believed, reveals that U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan clearly possessed information about a party thrown by the American contractor DynCorp for a bunch of Afghan police recruits that included "boy-play," the use of little boys for sexual entertainment—an ugly custom in Afghanistan known as bacha bazi. From the cable, it appears that not only did our assistant ambassador in Afghanistan know about the party and the subsequent arrest of Afghans who conspired to provide this entertainment, but that he also coached our Afghan allies on how to handle the cover up.

This was reported by the Houston Press, which is where I read about it first, and from which I heavily quoted. It was also reported by The Guardian. The story is picking up traction. A copy of the cable is viewable here.

According to the cable in question, the Afghan Minister of Interior, Hanif Atmar, met with U.S. Assistant Ambassador in Afghanistan Joseph Mussomeli about the "DynCorp Kunduz Problem." Atmar "insisted" that a journalist who was looking into allegations surrounding the party thrown by DynCorp "would endanger lives," and requested "that the U.S. quash the article ..." Amb. Mussomeli told the nervous Afghan official that "an overreaction by the Afghan goverment [sic] would only increase chances for the greater publicity ..."

"An investigation is on-going, disciplinary actions were taken against DynCorp leaders in Afghanistan," Mussomeli says in the cable. "Beyond remedial actions taken, we still hope the matter will not be blown out of proportion, an outcome which would not be good for either the U.S. or Afghanistan."

The article mentioned in the cable did eventually come out, and can be read here. It makes no mention of the bacha bazi.

Within less than an hour after my post went live, we received an e-mail from Ashley Vanarsdall Burke, the vice president of communications with DynCorp International. I am going to post her entire response below, as it is a beauty to behold in itself: a confusing tangle of accusations, denials and assurances of DynCorp's sensitivity. She refers to the allegations that I repeated as "bizarre," then goes to to explain what really happened at the party in question.

A thorough investigation of the incident found extremely poor judgment by a handful of employees and managers. As part of an employee’s going away party, a 17 year old local Afghan dancer who performed at local events such as weddings and other celebrations, was hired to perform a traditional Afghan dance. Recognizing that the situation was culturally insensitive, a site manager stopped the performance. Despite the fact that the performance was stopped, the situation was investigated. What was determined was that the leadership of the team exhibited poor judgment and were subsequently terminated. That is the whole story; no alcohol or drugs were involved, or other illegal behaviors occurred.

Help me figure this one out. How is it that an innocent performance by a 17-year-old Afghan dancer — who is hired for weddings — could be construed as "culturally insensitive?" Insensitive to whom, the Afghan police recruits? And how is it the events leading up to this innocent performance need be investigated, and that this investigation would lead to the whole "leadership of the team" being terminated, when the performance's worst crime is, supposedly, cultural insensitivity?

And why is it that, according to this cable, the Afghan minister assured our embassy that "he has arrested two Afghan police and nine other Afghans as part of an . . . investigation into Afghans who facilitated this crime of 'purchasing a service from a child'?"

Perhaps Burke will respond to these questions. While we wait, we are left to ruminate on the horror — if true — of an American company taking part in child sex-slavery and one of our diplomats cautioning that the story must not get "blown out of proportion."

Here is the e-mail I received. (The Houston Press received a similar response, which you can read about here.)

I am writing in response to your recent “Criminal knowledge” posting that reiterated some of the inaccuracies that have been circulating through blogs that never contacted the company for any comment, and want to make sure you have the following facts about this incident and the actions that were taken:

DynCorp International has zero tolerance for misconduct, investigates all allegations of potential wrongdoing and takes action, if warranted. In this matter, which took place more than a year and a half ago, a handful of individuals were found to have exercised extremely poor judgment and acted inappropriately. It is important to note, however, that the inaccurate and bizarre allegations contained in your post are false and recklessly irresponsible.

That said, even an individual act of extremely poor judgment provides an opportunity for improvement companywide, which was the case here.

After this incident, which occurred more than a year and a half ago, the company took several specific actions to respond to the situation. These actions included:

• Thorough Investigation. A thorough investigation of the incident found extremely poor judgment by a handful of employees and managers. As part of an employee’s going away party, a 17 year old local Afghan dancer who performed at local events such as weddings and other celebrations, was hired to perform a traditional Afghan dance. Recognizing that the situation was culturally insensitive, a site manager stopped the performance. Despite the fact that the performance was stopped, the situation was investigated. What was determined was that the leadership of the team exhibited poor judgment and were subsequently terminated. That is the whole story; no alcohol or drugs were involved, or other illegal behaviors occurred.

• Immediate Face-to-Face Training. Directly following the incident, DynCorp International senior leadership flew in-country to provide face-to-face ethics and compliance training to personnel at each of the regional training centers.

• Enhanced Program-wide Training. The leadership of this program also provided additional program-wide ethics and compliance training for all personnel, including enhanced training on the Code of Ethics and Business Conduct and reiterating program requirements for the behavior of all personnel.

Unrelated to this incident, in an effort to provide the best possible safeguards against inappropriate behavior, DI has also taken a number of important steps over the past year and a half to provide the most ethical work environment possible. These collective improvements include:

• Developing an enhanced Code of Ethics and Business Conduct.

• Reviewing, revising and, where necessary, strengthening all of the company’s business practices, resulting in a new Governance Execution Model to guide all company practices.

• Creating a position of Chief Compliance Officer to oversee all ethics and compliance issues.

• Introducing an independently monitored hotline to provide employees with a 24-7 channel to register complaints if they believe an instance of wrongdoing has occurred.

• Most recently, the company’s senior leadership participated in a new enhanced training program focusing specifically on behaviors that support successful teams. As part of the course, the team developed and signed a Social Contract listing the behavioral expectations for each leader and his or her team. In the coming weeks the leadership will be introducing this Social Contract to their teams, each member will be asked to sign, and he or she will be held accountable according to the behaviors in the Code. Over the coming months, the enhanced training course will be provided to employees throughout the company around the world.

No company can guarantee that their employees will behave perfectly at all times, under all conditions. What we can guarantee is that we will clearly define expectations, train our employees according to those expectations, and hold people accountable for their behaviors. We will also act swiftly and consistently if shortcomings are identified. Finally, we will always work to do better, every day, everywhere we perform for our customers.

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