7 years ago
I wanted to circle around and cover a report from The New York Times about a week ago.
Under the cover of a benign government information-gathering program, a Defense Department official set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants, according to military officials and businessmen in Afghanistan and the United States.
The official, Michael D. Furlong, hired contractors from private security companies that employed former C.I.A. and Special Forces operatives. The contractors, in turn, gathered intelligence on the whereabouts of suspected militants and the location of insurgent camps, and the information was then sent to military units and intelligence officials for possible lethal action in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the officials said.
While it has been widely reported that the C.I.A. and the military are attacking operatives of Al Qaeda and others through unmanned, remote-controlled drone strikes, some American officials say they became troubled that Mr. Furlong seemed to be running an off-the-books spy operation. The officials say they are not sure who condoned and supervised his work.
It is generally considered illegal for the military to hire contractors to act as covert spies. Officials said Mr. Furlong’s secret network might have been improperly financed by diverting money from a program designed to merely gather information about the region.
Moreover, in Pakistan, where Qaeda and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding, the secret use of private contractors may be seen as an attempt to get around the Pakistani government’s prohibition of American military personnel’s operating in the country.
Officials say Mr. Furlong’s operation seems to have been shut down, and he is now is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Defense Department for a number of possible offenses, including contract fraud.
Even in a region of the world known for intrigue, Mr. Furlong’s story stands out. At times, his operation featured a mysterious American company run by retired Special Operations officers and an iconic C.I.A. figure who had a role in some of the agency’s most famous episodes, including the Iran-Contra affair.
The allegations that he ran this network come as the American intelligence community confronts other instances in which private contractors may have been improperly used on delicate and questionable operations, including secret raids in Iraq and an assassinations program that was halted before it got off the ground.
“While no legitimate intelligence operations got screwed up, it’s generally a bad idea to have freelancers running around a war zone pretending to be James Bond,” one American government official said. But it is still murky whether Mr. Furlong had approval from top commanders or whether he might have been running a rogue operation …
The contractor, Robert Young Pelton, an author who writes extensively about war zones, said that the government hired him to gather information about Afghanistan and that Mr. Furlong improperly used his work. “We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people,” Mr. Pelton said.
He said that he and Eason Jordan, a former television news executive, had been hired by the military to run a public Web site to help the government gain a better understanding of a region that bedeviled them. Recently, the top military intelligence official in Afghanistan publicly said that intelligence collection was skewed too heavily toward hunting terrorists, at the expense of gaining a deeper understanding of the country.
Instead, Mr. Pelton said, millions of dollars that were supposed to go to the Web site were redirected by Mr. Furlong toward intelligence gathering for the purpose of attacking militants.
Take a look at what Tim Lynch has to say about Eason and this whole bunch, and also don’t miss the scathing critique by Brad Thor. Go and read the whole NYT article. Especially take a look at the screen capture of the web site they built. It has the look and feel of Iraq Slogger in which Eason Jordan was also involved.
So the story line is that Jordan and his cohorts were hired to build and maintain a web site similar to Iraq Slogger, except for Afghanistan. I don’t believe that charging for content on Iraq Slogger worked out very well, and they apparently worked a deal with the DoD to fund this new web site with tax dollars. Some of “their” money got diverted to use in actually developing real intelligence and killing the enemy, and they went to The New York Times, complaining and moaning about lost revenue.
Since I have gone on record demanding a covert campaign to foment an insurgency inside of Iran (as well as advocated targeted assassinations of certain figures such as Moqtada al Sadr and others), it should come as no surprise that I have no problem with dollars being spent wherever they are best utilized. It’s amusing that a government official said “no legitimate intelligence operations got screwed up.” No, to the contrary, these dollars redounded to success. There is a lesson in this.
Aside from the issue of dollars being sent the direction of private security and intelligence contractors, there is the moralistic element to this account. It’s an outrage: his information was “being used to kill people,” intoned the flabbergasted Pelton. This is the same preening, holier than thou, sanctimonious crap that we heard from the anthropologists who weighed in against the use of human terrain teams – as if war isn’t a legitimate application for anthropology. Every enlisted man and officer in war practices anthropology every day.
As I passed a car today I saw a bumper sticker that questioned “Who would Jesus bomb?” The Apostle grants the power of the sword for the purpose of justice, and Professor Darrell Cole has done an excellent job of explaining the notion of good wars from the perspective of Calvin and Aquinas. Certainly, not every aspect of every war America has ever fought falls under this rubric, but war can be righteous and justified, and denial of this truth can lead to ridiculous conclusions (and even more ridiculous bumper stickers). In the end though, it’s more likely that Jordan and Pelton are offended over the money, and The New York Times allowed itself to get ensnared in a fight over income rather than ethics.