Monday, March 15, 2010

Michael Furlong's War

The New York Times is reporting that investigations are moving forward on whether a Defense Department official, Michael Furlong, operated his own rogue paramilitary/intel unit in Afghanistan and Pakistan to track down and kill al Qaeda and Taliban units without proper authorizations from higher in the chain of command.
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.
It isn't clear when Furlong began these operations, but they accelerated in pace during the summer of 2009, which caught the attention of investigators. The AP reports that the Penatagon put Furlong in charge of a program to use private companies to gather information about Afghanistan's political and tribal culture.
Part of the original $22 million contract that Furlong was directing remains intact, the official told the AP, because it provides the funding for nine workers involved in information-gathering, translation and similar work. Those workers are employed by International Media Ventures with offices in Florida, Texas and elsewhere.

Nine employees from International Media Ventures were hired by the U.S. military to serve as information analysts and in other administrative jobs at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters operations center in Kabul, said Maj. Steven Cole, a spokesman for the international military coalition in Afghanistan.
No one is clear whether he was authorized to run this operation, and it isn't clear whether the information he gathered was actually used by the military or CIA to engage terrorists although sources do claim that the intel was acted upon. Intel gathered by these private contractors appears to have found its way into Defense Department and CIA hands. A contractor working for Furlong claims that millions of dollars that were supposed to go to the Web site run by Eason Jordan was redirected by Mr. Furlong toward intelligence gathering for the purpose of attacking militants, in violation of his contractual obligations and orders.

In some respects, this reads like Charlie Wilson's war.

If Furlong operated outside the chain of command and exceeded his authority, then these investigations should find him in violation of the applicable law. The problem becomes whether he was authorized to do so (and who issued the authorizations) and whether the program was successful or not - and those in the Times article seems to lean towards it being not successful. If it was successful, then outing the program could lead to problems down the road and ends a potentially successful intel operation.

The Defense Department can't account for about $15 million provided Furlong for his operations.

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