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From the New York Times in the USA:
By DEXTER FILKINS and MARK MAZZETTI
Published: March 14, 2010
KABUL, Afghanistan — 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.
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 San Antonio.
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 Iraq and the Balkans. It is unclear exactly when Mr. Furlong’s operations began. But officials said they seemed to accelerate in the summer of 2009, and by the time they ended, he and his colleagues had established a network of informants in Afghanistan and Pakistan whose job it was to help locate people believed to be insurgents.
Government officials said they believed that Mr. Furlong might have channeled money away from a program intended to provide American commanders with information about Afghanistan’s social and tribal landscape, and toward secret efforts to hunt militants on both sides of the country’s porous border with Pakistan.
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 Afghanistan and Pakistan to senior military officers, and in one instance said a group of suspected militants carrying rockets by mule over the border had been singled out and killed as a result of his efforts.
In addition, at least one government contractor who worked with Mr. Furlong in Afghanistan last year maintains that he saw evidence that the information was used for attacking militants.
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. …
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.
Human rights campaigners have accused the Pakistani military of committing hundreds of extrajudicial killings under cover of an offensive against alleged Taliban insurgents: here.
The Obama administration has seized on the failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square on May 1 to insist that the Pakistani military step up its war on Islamic militants and extend its operations into North Waziristan: here.
Freelance killing in Afghanistan: here.
The New York Times reported May 15 that the US military was continuing “to rely on a secret network” of spies and assassins in Afghanistan and Pakistan, two months after the newspaper first brought the unit to public attention: here.
Despite a directive calling for more caution, US special forces operations are continuing to terrorise and kill civilians in Afghanistan: here.
Army contractor’s use of a cover name for Blackwater angers Sen. McCaskill: here.
CIA drone attacks produce America’s own unlawful combatants: here.
Legal experts have warned US legislators that the shadowy CIA drone assassination programme in Pakistan is a “clear violation of international law” that exposes drone pilots to the risk of prosecution: here.
A family whose members were killed in a botched night raid in eastern Afghanistan have rejected “blood money” from the Government and vowed to carry out suicide attacks unless the perpetrators are brought to justice: here.
Afghanistan: German forces now ordering airstrikes: here.
U.S. Army officer reveals ethnic cleansing in Afghanistan: here.
An Afghan woman’s case against the US war: here.
Afghanistan violence escalates as US forces prepare Kandahar assault: here.
Karzai faces anger in Marjah: here.
Militants are regaining control of Marjah, residents have reported, less than a month after Western military officials claimed to have seized the Afghan town from the Taliban: here.
Arms corporations are cashing in on a weapons bonanza after sales rocketed 22 per cent over the past five years, a leading peace research group has warned: here.
Britain: ‘Heartless MoD lost my boy’s goodbye letter’: Mother’s fury after teenage son dies in Afghanistan: here.
George Bush left a big problem in the shape of Guantánamo. The solution? Don’t capture bad guys, assassinate by drone: here.