(NEW YORK) — Cellphone video recorded earlier this year at an operations center of a U.S. security contractor in Kabul, Afghanistan appears to show key personnel staggeringly drunk or high on narcotics, in what former employees say was a pattern of outrageous behavior that put American lives at risk and went undetected by U.S. military officials who are supposed to oversee such contractors.
The video, provided to ABC News by two former employees, is scheduled to be broadcast in a report Wednesday evening on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer and Nightline.
Asked if a response to an attack by terrorists would have been possible during the events seen on the video, one of the former employees, Kenny Smith, told ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross, “No, sir.”
Questions posed by ABC News to the Pentagon have sparked a criminal investigation by the U.S. Army, a spokesman says.
The contractor, Virginia-based Jorge Scientific, has won almost $1 billion in U.S. government contracts.
The company says it has taken “decisive action to correct the unacceptable behavior of a limited number of employees” and that several of them seen on the video are no longer employed by Jorge Scientific.
READ the full statement from Jorge Scientific
The use of alcohol or illegal drugs by U.S. contractors in Afghanistan is prohibited by the military under what is known as General Order Number One.
Yet the former employees told ABC News they saw no evidence of oversight of the company by American military officials and that at least one U.S. Army major, a female, was a regular visitor to drunken parties at the facility, often using a room for sexual encounters.
The two former employees, John Melson and Kenny Smith, say the video documents allegations they have made in a lawsuit against Jorge Scientific.
“They endangered Jorge employees, the U.S. mission, and U.S. military personnel,” claims the lawsuit.
READ the allegations in Melson and Smith’s lawsuit
Melson and Smith worked as armed security officers for three and five months, respectively, in Kabul as part of a $47 million contract Jorge Scientific had under the U.S. Legacy Program to train the Afghan National Police in counter-insurgency efforts.
Both men say they quit the company in disgust and out of concern that their own safety was being compromised by the behavior they describe.
“It was going against everything that we were trying to do over there,” said Melson.
The video shows the security manager for the company staggering about the operations center late one evening after taking large gulps of vodka and then engaging another employee in a half-naked wrestling match.
“It was like a frat house for adults,” said Melson. “Some of them to the point where they were passing out, there’s firearms laying around, some of them still carrying the firearms on them.”
Another portion of the video shows the company’s medical officer with glassy eyes and unable to respond to a request for help after shooting up with a prescription anesthetic, Ketamine.
Told of the existence of the video, the medical officer, Kevin Carlson, admitted to ABC News that he frequently injected himself with narcotics.
“It was getting to be such a nightmare, just living in that place, I needed to get away,” said Carlson, who was among the employees dismissed by the company earlier this year.
Now living in Germany, Carlson said there was “massive drug and alcohol abuse” at that Jorge Scientific facility, involving executives, armed security personnel and himself.
“If I try to hide what I did, it doesn’t make me look very good anyway,” he said. “So I’d rather just be honest about what happened.”
The whistleblowers say the company’s senior on-site executive, Chris Sullivan, often organized and led the heavy drinking gatherings, with a loaded pistol tucked into his pants.
Smith says Sullivan pushed hard for everyone to join in the excessive drinking, and said those who would not were cowards. “He called us a bunch of pussies,” said Smith.
The video shows Sullivan at a blazing bonfire in an outdoor patio of the operations center whose location was supposed to be covert because of the sensitivity of the mission.
“There was nothing covert with bringing all that added attention,” said Melson, the former employee. “Afghanistan is not the time or the place to be carrying on like that.”
Sullivan no longer works at Jorge Scientific, according to the company statement. He declined to speak with ABC News.
The whistleblowers say that the drunken and stoned security personnel would often throw live ammunition rounds and fire extinguishers into the flames and watch as they exploded, often sounding like a real bomb explosion.
“It wasn’t every night,” said Kenny Smith. “It was every other night.”
The company’s operations manual describes a “zero-tolerance for alcohol and drug use” and says all personnel must be on alert 24/7 for a possible terror attack.
“Anybody who uses alcohol or drugs around armed weapons is putting themselves and others in a tremendous amount of danger, said former Army vice-chief of staff General Peter Chiarelli, an ABC News consultant who oversaw contractors when he served in Iraq.
“All indications from what I’ve been able to read and see so far indicate somebody missed something,” said General Chiarelli after viewing video clips and the whistleblower lawsuit in the Jorge Scientific case.
In a statement to ABC News, Colonel Tom Collins, a U.S. Army spokesperson for the International Security Assistance Force, said, “Clearly, behavior such as that described by ABC News is not indicative of the outstanding work that thousands of contractors and service members perform every day in Afghanistan.”
READ the full statement from the ISAF
Col. Collins said he could not comment substantively on the allegations because of the on-going criminal investigation.
As American troops continue to withdraw from Afghanistan, there are now more private contractors in the country than uniformed U.S. military personnel and the new video is certain to raise more questions about the role and oversight of private companies performing many of the same jobs that once were carried out only by the military.
“We are relying more and more on contractors in Afghanistan,” said Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight.
“It has got to be that there is more of a sense of oversight on the part of the military and the U.S. government to make sure these contractors are not actually undermining the diplomatic mission with their behavior,” she said.
A Pentagon spokesman said the military was unaware of the video and the allegations in the lawsuit until contacted by ABC News last month.
The lawsuit by the two former employees was originally filed under seal as part of the False Claims Act, designed to give the government an opportunity to join the legal effort to see if the government was defrauded. In this case, the Department of Justice declined to become part of the fraud lawsuit and apparently did not notify the U.S. Army of the allegations.
After ABC News first asked questions of the Pentagon, agents of the Army’s Criminal Investigations Division have sought to interview the two men, according to their lawyer, David Scher.
“I think the company’s conduct far exceeds that of a mere drunken brawl, and drunken activities,” said Scher. “It leads to a very severe security risk in Afghanistan when that is the last thing that we need.”
In its statement to ABC News, Jorge said it made management changes in Afghanistan even before the two former employees filed their lawsuit.
“These individuals are seeking monetary damages by mischaracterizing these actions as ‘fraud,’” the company said of the behavior at the facility.
Jorge said its board of directors hired an “outside and independent investigative team headed by a former federal prosecutor to conduct a thorough investigation.”
“The company remains confident that the personal misconduct did not impact the company’s contract performance,” the statement read.
A senior U.S. official in Afghanistan told ABC News that if the allegations prove to be true, the company “should be kicked out of here fast” given concerns that such behavior could add to rage over perceived U.S. disrespect for local values.
“This arrogant image that Americans have worldwide, this was feeding right into it,” said one of the whistleblowers, John Melson, a National Guard sergeant who served in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan before working for Jorge Scientific.
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