The New York Times broke some of the story, and CNN has some more, which the Pentagon and CIA are both being cagey about. The central points: a strategic planner at the Joint Information Operations Warfare Command (Lackland AFB) and former Army officer Michael Furlong, diverted $24 million in funds from their original intended use: to use open-source intelligence to gain a better understanding of the culture of Afghanistan and Pakistan — specifically to look into the success of development efforts. An investigation was started because the CIA noted that there were a sudden jump in successful assassinations of Taliban militants on the battlefield (and which had me wondering if this was tied to “breaking of al-Qaida” that the CIA’s Leon Panetta is taking credit for.. The timing of the operations is similar…)
There are two quotes from the CNN story that caught my eye: “Concern within the Central Intelligence Agency about the contract prompted the investigation, officials said.” “…the story first emerged because the CIA leaked a classified memo written by its station chief in Afghanistan to the Pentagon complaining about Furlong’s activities.” This is code speak for “Wah! The military is operating in clandestine operations…and they’re more successful than us…and it our mission to do this and look good!”
This is similar to the issues that surrounded Iran-Contra and a host of Reagan-era programs where black bag operations were funded off the books by diverting funds. A few of the officers involved in these operations were cashiered and the former commander of SEAL Team 6 was tried for essentially embezzlement, since no receipts were kept for what the operators did with the money. Is what Furlong did illegal? Probably… There are some rules, if I’m not mistaken, about the Pentagon sponsoring clandestine operations; while military personnel can be used, the funds and planning have to go through the Central Intelligence Agency of the new Directorate of national Intelligence. Was he did wrong? That remains to be seen.
Instead of hiring locals to collect intelligence on cultural, developmental, and other data for a “winning the hearts and minds” campaign, Furlong instead hired local agents to spy on the Taliban and al-Qaida operations in Afghanistan, to locate those militants, and put paid to them. One of the contractors used by Furlong complained to the NYT, ” We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people…”
We were killing the enemy on the battlefield in a time of war! Oh, noes!
Now when I was in army intelligence, all intelligence gathered could be used for force-protection — you found out terrorist X was going to hit base Y…you sent it up the chain to have something down about it. The issue here may be that Furlong dispatched mercenaries (allegedly) without Pentagon say-so or knowing about it. Illegal? Probably… The wrong thing to do? I’m coming down on the side of “no.”
The DOD, predictably, is covering their asses as the strategic communications commander, ADM Smith throws Furlong under the bus with the typical “I was immediately uncomfortable”, “I don’t know what they did with the money”, “It’s not my fault” mantra. What’s likely to happen is that the Congress will turn this into some dog-and-pony show full of angsty anger toward illegal intelligence activities to take the heat off of themselves for their pathetic performance this year. If they do, we’ll probably get another church Commission/Torrecelli Commission finding that further hampers intelligence operations.