15 Mar 2010 06:00:31 GMT
WASHINGTON, March 15 (Reuters) – A Pentagon official set up a unit of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants, The New York Times reported on its website, citing military officials and businessmen in Afghanistan and the United States. According to a story that will appear in Monday’s paper, government officials said the official, Michael D. Furlong, might have channeled money away from a program intended to give U.S. commanders information about Afghanistan’s social and tribal landscape, and toward secret efforts to hunt militants on both sides of Afghanistan’s porous border with Pakistan. Furlong, a retired Air Force officer who is now a senior civilian employee in the military, hired contractors from private security companies that employed former CIA and Special Forces operatives, the newspaper reported. The contractors gathered intelligence on the whereabouts of suspected militants and the location of insurgent camps. That material was sent to military units and intelligence officials for possible lethal action in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the unnamed officials told the paper. The Times said the story was based on interviews with American military and intelligence officials, and businessmen in the region. The sources requested anonymity, the paper said, because the case is under investigation. Some U.S. officials interviewed by the Times said they became troubled that Furlong seemed to be running an off-the-books spy operation. “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 U.S. government official told the Times. Officials told the paper they were not sure who condoned Furlong’s project. Col. Kathleen Cook, a spokeswoman for United States Strategic Command which oversees Furlong’s work, did not make Furlong available for an interview, according to the Times. Contractor and author Robert Young Pelton told the paper that the U.S. government hired him to gather information about Afghanistan, but 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,” Pelton was quoted as saying. Some officials told the Times it was unclear whether Furlong’s program resulted in militants’ deaths, but others involved in the operation said it did. Quoting officials, the paper reported that 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.
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