My Time Since the Fall of Kabul. November 2021.
November would produce a surprise that I certainly didn’t see coming, but by this point, I don’t think that there was much that could surprise me anymore.
Having stumbled onto something that I thought was pretty big, I figured that I was going to be needing some help because I wasn’t going to be able to do this by myself. I sent emails out to a number of organizations that I was hoping might want to run with this, but to no avail. That said it really shouldn’t have come as a great surprise either considering the subject matter. Below are some excerpts from this email.
For the last six months, I have been writing about the Afghan LEC crisis and have recently been involved in efforts to keep those who are still in Afghanistan safe and to ultimately try to get them to safety.
I became aware that a number of former LECs had been trying in vain to contact their former employer, International Management Services Inc. (IMS), in an effort to obtain proof of employment in order to apply for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVS) in Canada and the United States. These LECs were considered to be at risk because they had received threats of Taliban retribution for having worked for the West. Unfortunately, they were unable to provide any proof that they had served and were thus turned down for a SIV, leaving them trapped in Afghanistan and in very grave danger.
Last week I began an investigation into IMS and its owner, Sonny Achakzai, and although it is not yet complete, I have gathered enough information to come to the conclusion that this will require an investigation beyond what I am capable of given my very limited resources. I am therefore sending this to you to see if you might want to collaborate with me on this.
The focus of my investigation is to attempt to determine:
– did Sonny Achakzai commit fraud against the Government of the United States, and
– did his actions contribute to the deaths of any former LECs
My investigation so far has primarily consisted of research, however, I have conducted an interview with a former LEC who was also employed by IMS.
I conducted extensive online research and was able to find the following information:
Sonny Achakzai’s only social media presence appears to be a private Instagram account.
IMS and Sonny Achakzai were mentioned in Canadian newspaper articles, which reveal that IMS employed approximately 1,200 interpreters in 2008 and that there had been issues between the company and its interpreters with regard to immigration to Canada. The articles, which contain quotes from Achakzai, identify him as the owner of IMS.
A search of corporate records in the US shows that there are a number of entities that have been registered under the name International Management Services, IMS, or some variation of the name. There are some commonalities among them such as the offices in Rumford, Maine, as well as email addresses (imservicesinc.com). Sonny Achakzai’s name doesn’t appear in any corporate records or documentation, and it would appear as though cutouts or strawmen are being used.
There are at least two Facebook groups dedicated to former IMS employees who have been unable to contact the company for proof of employment. They appear to have been without any activity since approximately 2015.
As luck would have it, I found a website belonging to the Jelani Group Companies in Afghanistan which has a page under “Projects” in which they showcase their “BAGRAM” project, in conjunction with a company called Worldwide Language Resources. In it, they identify the owner of Worldwide as email@example.com. This email address is consistent with others known to belong to WWLR employees. I can only assume that Mr. Achakzai is not aware that this information is disclosed on the Jelani website.
I also conducted an interview with a former employee of IMS who is currently still in Afghanistan, so for his safety, I will refer to him as “Muhammad”. He first contacted me in the early morning hours of August 28th (Mountain time), at around the same time that the last flights were leaving Kabul. I asked him about how things worked with IMS, first as far as when he was first hired. He told me that he met with someone who was either a manager or team leader and that this person was the one who presented Muhammad with a contract. He didn’t receive a copy of the contract for himself. I asked about when and how he was paid, and he told me that they were paid at the end of every month. They would have to go to the IMS compound, where they would be paid by a member of IMS management. There was a list with everyone’s names on it, and they would have to sign beside their name. They would then be paid in cash the sum of US$600 for the month. It actually works out to US$20 per day, as he tells me that they would make more in months with 31 days and less in February with 28 days, but for all intents and purposes, it was US$600 per month. They did not give him a pay slip, receipt, or any other type of documentation memorializing the transaction.
I then asked him what he could tell me about Sonny Achakzai, and he didn’t have much good to say about the man. Muhammad told me that on one occasion, Achakzai called a meeting with the interpreters, a meeting that was also attended by a delegation that included a number of high-ranking US officers, he wasn’t able to provide any information as to ranks or branch of service. He stated that during the meeting Achakzai told the interpreters that if they were ever asked by a Canadian how much they were making, they were to say that they were making $1,400 per month.
He also told me that he heard about an incident that occurred in the Zhari district in which an interpreter who was working for the Canadians was killed on the job. The Canadian government was going to pay the family of the interpreter $60,000, but they never saw a nickel of it. Al told me that this was fairly common knowledge in the Zhari district.
While I cannot definitively state anything at this moment, given the evidence at hand I can say that there is a high probability that the following has taken place:
- that Sonny Achakzai perpetrated a fraud against the United States government, and then later acted to conceal it,
- that IMS did not perform any kind of record keeping whatsoever, meaning that there will be no record of anyone having been employed there,
- that as a result, an unknown number of people have been unable to obtain a SIV, resulting in their lives being put in jeopardy due to Taliban retribution,
- that a number of individuals have lost their lives as a result, and more will in the future.
What I can say is that this matter warrants further investigation, in order to determine whether or not this hypothesis is correct.
At the moment, I am both a journalist and an advocate, and there are times when their interests will not always be the same. I must always consider myself to be an advocate first and a journalist second, the stakes in this instance are simply too high to do otherwise.
As this has an effect on interpreters serving all NATO countries, I felt that it was important that you were aware of the situation at hand.
“Achakzai called a meeting with the interpreters, a meeting that was also attended by a delegation that included a number of high-ranking US officers.“
This was my reaction upon being told this information because I knew that it could only mean one thing; there was a pretty good probability that Sonny Achakzai was an asset belonging to someone in US Intelligence. Which of the agencies isn’t really clear, but it didn’t really matter which one it was. I had really stepped in it this time, and it was really not something that I had been particularly looking for.
I was trying to get people the hell out of Afghanistan, not uncover American intelligence assets or rampant fraud against the United States Government, it just happened to work out that way. I had enough shit to deal with in my life as it was, I sure as hell didn’t want or need any of this nonsense.
It also left me disgusted at the fact that the “left-behinds” weren’t only getting screwed by NATO, they were getting it twice as bad from their own people. It didn’t come as any great surprise as there were plenty of stories like this circulating.
Payoffs are being offered.
Among the many messages that I was receiving, there were a few from guys who owned their own businesses or who came from well-to-do families, and I was offered compensation by some of them. I was told on at least a couple of occasions by different people that they had plenty of assets which could be liquidated and would be more than happy to send some of it my way if it would mean that they would be getting a little bit further ahead in the whole process than someone who had waited for a great deal longer.
If someone wanted to throw me a parade and give me a large cash reward for what I was doing, great, no problem. If however, you as someone in need of help should offer me a large cash payment to help “grease the wheels” for you to get out of Dodge, I wouldn’t accept a nickel of your damn money. That isn’t what I’m doing this for and if you don’t understand that, well, too bad.
Suspected contact by Pakistani intelligence.
I had also received a message from someone who I suspected was a member of Pakistan’s ISI, or Inter-Services Intelligence. While I couldn’t be absolutely positive, I knew that the possibility did exist that they might try to message me, along with Taliban agents, so I needed to be careful. By the end of November, I figured that I had several intelligence agencies from around the globe crawling up my ass. This was definitely not the way I had envisioned my life ever turning out.