March 14, 2010
Contractors Tied to Effort to Track and Kill Militants
By DEXTER FILKINS and MARK MAZZETTI
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
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.
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.
This account of his activities is based on interviews with American military and intelligence officials and businessmen in the region. They insisted on anonymity in discussing a delicate case that is under investigation.
Col. Kathleen Cook, a spokeswoman for United States Strategic Command, which oversees Mr. Furlong’s work, declined to make him available for an interview. Military officials said Mr. Furlong, a retired Air Force officer, is now a senior civilian employee in the military, a full-time Defense Department employee based at Lackland Air Force Base in
Network of Informants
Mr. Furlong has extensive experience in “psychological operations” — the military term for the use of information in warfare — and he plied his trade in a number of places, including
Government officials said they believed that Mr. Furlong might have channeled money away from a program intended to provide American commanders with information about
Some officials said it was unclear whether these operations actually resulted in the deaths of militants, though others involved in the operation said that they did.
Military officials said that Mr. Furlong would often boast about his network of informants in
In addition, at least one government contractor who worked with Mr. Furlong in
The contractor, Robert Young Pelton, an author who writes extensively about war zones, said that the government hired him to gather information about
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.
In one example, Mr. Pelton said he had been told by Afghan colleagues that video images that he posted on the Web site had been used for an American strike in the South Waziristan region of
Among the contractors Mr. Furlong appears to have used to conduct intelligence gathering was International Media Ventures, a private “strategic communication” firm run by several former Special Operations officers. Another was American International Security Corporation, a Boston-based company run by Mike Taylor, a former Green Beret. In a phone interview, Mr. Taylor said that at one point he had employed Duane Clarridge, known as Dewey, a former top C.I.A. official who has been linked to a generation of C.I.A. adventures, including the Iran-Contra scandal.
In an interview, Mr. Clarridge denied that he had worked with Mr. Furlong in any operation in
Mr. Taylor, who is chief executive of A.I.S.C., said his company gathered information on both sides of the border to give military officials information about possible threats to American forces. He said his company was not specifically hired to provide information to kill insurgents.
Some American officials contend that Mr. Furlong’s efforts amounted to little. Nevertheless, they provoked the ire of the C.I.A.
Last fall, the spy agency’s station chief in
In mid-2008, the military put Mr. Furlong in charge of a program to use private companies to gather information about the political and tribal culture of
The Web site also shows that several of its senior executives are former members of the military’s Special Operations forces, including former commandos from Delta Force, which has been used extensively since the Sept. 11 attacks to track and kill suspected terrorists.
Until recently, one of the members of International Media’s board of directors was Gen. Dell L. Dailey, former head of Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees the military’s covert units.
In an e-mail message, General Dailey said that he had resigned his post on the company’s board, but he did not say when. He did not give details about the company’s work with the American military, and other company executives declined to comment.
In an interview, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, the top military spokesman in
By Mr. Pelton’s account, Mr. Furlong, in conversations with him and his colleagues, referred to his stable of contractors as “my Jason Bournes,” a reference to the fictional American assassin created by the novelist Robert Ludlum and played in movies by Matt Damon.
Military officials said that Mr. Furlong would occasionally brag to his superiors about having Mr. Clarridge’s services at his disposal. Last summer, Mr. Furlong told colleagues that he was working with Mr. Clarridge to secure the release of Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, a kidnapped soldier who American officials believe is being held by militants in
From December 2008 to mid-June 2009, both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Clarridge were hired to assist The New York Times in the case of David Rohde, the Times reporter who was kidnapped by militants in Afghanistan and held for seven months in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The reporter ultimately escaped on his own.
The idea for the government information program was thought up sometime in 2008 by Mr. Jordan, a former CNN news chief, and his partner Mr. Pelton, whose books include “The World’s Most Dangerous Places” and “Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror.”
Top General Approached
They approached Gen. David D. McKiernan, soon to become the top American commander in
Whenever he asked for financing, Mr.
“He told us that there was less and less money for what we were doing, and less of an appreciation for what we were doing,” he said.
Admiral Smith, the military’s director for strategic communications in
“I took the air out of the balloon,” he said.
Admiral Smith said that the C.I.A. was against the proposal for the same reasons. Mr. Furlong persisted in pushing the project, he said.
“I finally had to tell him, ‘Read my lips,’ we’re not interested,’ ” Admiral Smith said.
What happened next is unclear.
Admiral Smith said that when he turned down the Afpax proposal, Mr. Furlong wanted to spend the leftover money elsewhere. That is when Mr. Furlong agreed to provide some of International Media Ventures’ employees to Admiral Smith’s strategic communications office.
But that still left roughly $15 million unaccounted for, he said.
“I have no idea where the rest of the money is going,” Admiral Smith said.
Dexter Filkins reported from Kabul, and Mark Mazzetti from
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs