Washington – Mike Furlong, a top Pentagon official, is alleged to have run a covert network of contractors to supply information for drone strikes and assassinations in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the U.S. government.
The contract built upon his decade-long experience in running propaganda programmes for the military in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq.
Officially, Furlong worked in strategic communications for Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command. In reality, Furlong was in charge of a project titled “CAPSTONE” under which he hired former C.I.A. and Special Forces operatives who helped him gather intelligence on the whereabouts of “suspected militants and the location of insurgent camps” that was then transmitted to high-ranking Pentagon and CIA officials for “possible lethal action in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
To do this, Furlong tapped the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organisation, a Pentagon research organisation to reduce the threat from roadside bombs, to provide him with a 24.6-million-dollar pot of money via two obscure contracting offices – the Cultural Engagement Group at the Special Operations Command Central in Tampa, Florida, and the Counter Narcoterrorism Technology Programme Office in Dahlgren, Virginia.
With this money, he hired a newly minted company called International Media Ventures (IMV) of St. Petersburg, Florida, and attempted to subcontract other individuals and companies to run surveillance operations in South Asia.
One of the companies Furlong attempted to subcontract was AfPax Insider, a subscription service run by Robert Young Pelton, author of “The World’s Most Dangerous Places”, and Eason Jordan, a former chief news executive for CNN. After learning more about what Furlong wanted to do, Pelton told IPS that he opted out of the programme in late 2009.
“When we suspected what he was doing, we protested. That moral stand cost us millions,” he said.
At the time Pelton made his concerns known to IPS that Furlong might have set up IMV for clandestine operations. He says that he told Furlong that “kinetic action” (i.e., drone strikes) was incompatible with “the now accepted counterinsurgency strategy.”
In a front page news story written by Mark Mazetti and Dexter Filkins in the New York Times on Monday, Furlong’s secret operation was exposed after the Central Intelligence Agency filed an official complaint with the Pentagon’s inspector general.
The New York Times reports that Furlong boasted to unnamed military officials that “a group of suspected militants carrying rockets by mule over the border had been singled out and killed as a result of his efforts.”
IMV’s CEO is Dick Pack, who ran special operations for an L-3 subsidiary called Government Services Incorporated in Chantilly, Virginia. For example, GSI provided 300 intelligence analysts such as interrogators to the Pentagon in Iraq under a 426.5-million-dollar contract signed in 2005.
On IMV’s website, Pack, who once ran Delta Force (the elite U.S. commando unit) also claims to have been a mission planner for a rescue of U.S. prisoners-of-war in Laos, the aborted 1980 rescue mission to free U.S. embassy hostages in Tehran, the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983, as well as an operations officer for the Pentagon responding to the hijacking of a TWA plane to Beirut in 1985.
Another company that Furlong subcontracted was Boston-based American International Security Corporation (AISC), a company run by Mike Taylor, a former Green Beret turned private investigator who was accused in a 1995 lawsuit by Massachusetts state trooper Robert Monahan of helping drug traffickers by providing phony Greek passports and even arranging a jailbreak in Florida.
AISC employed Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, a former senior C.I.A. official who has been alleged to have been involved in a host of scandals from Iran-Contra to creating the fake uranium smuggling scandal in Niger.
In one previous scandal, Clarridge admitted to have arranged for the mining of Nicaraguan harbours in 1984 to destabilise the Sandanistas. “I was sitting at home one night, frankly having a glass of gin, and I said you know the mines has gotta be the solution. I knew we had ’em, we’d made ’em outta sewer pipe and we had the good fusing system on them and we were ready. And you know they wouldn’t really hurt anybody because they just weren’t that big a mine, alright? Yeah, with luck, bad luck we might hurt somebody, but pretty hard you know?” he told an interviewer once.
Clarridge has long had a close relationship with Robert Gates, now the head of the Pentagon. “If you have a tough, dangerous job, critical to national security, Dewey’s your man,” Gates is quoted as saying in a book by Joseph E. Persico. “Just make sure you have a good lawyer at his elbow – Dewey’s not easy to control.”
Furlong started CAPSTONE in 2008 when he was hired as a “strategic planner and technology integration adviser” at the Joint Information Operations Warfare Command at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
At about the same time, Pelton and Jordan had set up a meeting with General David McKiernan, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, to offer an information gathering service on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pentagon agreed to consider paying for such a service and introduced them to Furlong.
Unknown to either Pelton or Jordan, Furlong then set up a contract with IMV to bring together at least six unrelated companies on the back of this proposal, including AfPax Insider. Whether or not Furlong had approval from higher level officials to provide covert information gathering for drone strikes, together with benign information gathering or even propaganda, is yet to be determined.
Some senior officials felt that Furlong was doing a good job. In an August 2009 assessment, General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, wrote that “CAPSTONE contracts… should be supported as these will significantly enhance… monitoring and assessment efforts.”
But Furlong seems to have had exaggerated opinions of what he was doing, referring to Taylor and Clarridge as his “Jason Bournes” (the fictitious assassin played by Matt Damon in the Bourne Supremacy films).
He also boasted about achievements that others have said were flat wrong. For example, he told Pelton that he had helped free David Rohde, a New York Times reporter who was held captive for seven months by the Taliban, by sending a U.S. doctor to drug the guards and supply the rope. Pelton says these claims aroused his concerns.
What made the situation complicated was that the New York Times had in fact hired Mike Taylor and Duane “Dewey” Clarridge to help them track down Rohde. The newspaper confirmed to IPS that they had hired the two men but insisted that they had no dealings with Furlong.
In a statement issued by the New York Times to IPS, a newspaper staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “The newspaper, Rohde and his family had no contact with Furlong. They had not heard of Furlong until Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti began working on their story. As Rohde stated in the series, no one helped them escape. Any claim by Furlong that he helped them escape is false.”
The question remains – was Furlong running rogue operations or did he have tacit approval from his bosses? After the news broke in the New York Times on Monday, a Pentagon official who talked to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity said that it was “not apparent who authorised” the operation but that the “potential for disaster” was obvious.
Today the Pentagon says that it has placed Furlong under criminal investigation for his activities, after the CIA’s station chief in Kabul sent a cable to the Pentagon complaining about the covert operations and his own bosses at the U.S. Strategic Command Joint Information Operations Warfare Centre (JIOWC) voiced similar concerns. (Exactly why the CIA was worried about this when they were doing much the same thing is unclear, but there has been a long history of animosity between the two agencies.)
Pratap Chatterjee is a senior editor at CorpWatch. This article was produced in partnership with CorpWatch. It is the first of a two-part series.