US still using spy ring to track Taliban militants

Despite a Pentagon ban, agents work in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Earlier this year, government officials admitted that the military had sent a group of former Central Intelligence Agency officers and retired Special Operations troops into the region to collect information — some of which was used to track and kill people suspected of being militants. Many portrayed it as a rogue operation that had been hastily shut down once an investigation began.

But interviews with more than a dozen current and former government officials and businessmen, and an examination of government documents, tell a different a story. Not only are the networks still operating, their detailed reports on subjects like the workings of the Taliban leadership in Pakistan and the movements of enemy fighters in southern Afghanistan are also submitted almost daily to top commanders and have become an important source of intelligence.

The American military is largely prohibited from operating inside Pakistan. And under Pentagon rules, the army is not allowed to hire contractors for spying.

Broad information
Military officials said that when Gen David H Petraeus, the top commander in the region, signed off on the operation in January 2009, there were prohibitions against intelligence gathering, including hiring agents to provide information about enemy positions in Pakistan. The contractors were supposed to provide only broad information about the political and tribal dynamics in the region, and information that could be used for “force protection,” they said.

Some Pentagon officials said that over time, the operation appeared to morph into traditional spying activities. And they pointed out that the supervisor who set up the contractor network, Michael D Furlong, was now under investigation.
But a review of the programme found that Furlong’s operatives were still providing information using the same intelligence gathering methods as before. The contractors were still being paid under a $22 million contract managed by Lockheed Martin and supervised by the Pentagon office in charge of special operations policy.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said that the programme “remains under investigation by multiple offices within the Defence Department,” so it would be inappropriate to answer specific questions about who approved the operation or why it continues.

“I assure you we are committed to determining if any laws were broken or policies violated,” he said.
The New York Times

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
GET IT
Comments (+)