Pentagon Says Intel Contractors Went Too Far

WASHINGTON -- A military contractor says he'll fight Pentagon accusations that his people went too far in gathering intelligence in Afghanistan that ended up being used to target militants.

A high-level Defense Department inquiry concluded that defense contractor Michael Furlong, a retired Army officer, ran what amounted to an illegal spying ring of private military contractors.

The 15-page classified report into the matter, obtained by The Associated Press, says Furlong's human intelligence collection program, known as "Information Operations Capstone," amounted to a "violation of executive orders" and Defense Department policy.

Drafted by Michael Decker, the Pentagon's assistant secretary for intelligence oversight, and initialed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the inquiry calls for further investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

In an interview, Furlong denied the accusations and said he never was questioned by the investigators nor has the Pentagon shared the report with him so he can answer the charges. He currently is on administrative leave, pending final review of the case.

The dispute over the Capstone operation centers on the military's struggle over the past two years to ramp up intelligence gathering to support counterinsurgency. The strategy includes elements of nation-building, which requires more social, civil and economic data, as well as the tactical intelligence needed for targeting.

The outgoing head of military intelligence operations in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, wrote a controversial public critique of intelligence-gathering in the war zone earlier this year. Flynn criticized the military intelligence gathering structure as too focused on hunting al-Qaida, to the exclusion of building a multilayered picture of Afghan civil society.

The program criticized by the Pentagon inquiry was set up to provide just that sort of non-targeting intelligence.

Furlong says that the contractors -- retired CIA officers and special operations veterans, in addition to local Afghans -- were tracking social and civil society for the U.S.-led NATO war effort and that if and when they sometimes came across militant plots, they passed that information on to the relevant authorities as outlined in their contract.

Former officials who worked under the program say the contractors also refused to ask any follow-up questions of their sources when military authorities asked them to pursue leads from their initial reports, to keep their contract intelligence collection separate from military capture-and-kill activities.

The former officials who worked under the program spoke on condition of anonymity because the $22 million operation, which ended May 30, is now part of the legal dispute.

But the inquiry concluded that Furlong's program was carrying out "unauthorized" human intelligence operations by what it termed "nongovernment personnel under the guise of gathering and reporting 'Force Protection Atmospherics."'

The inquiry also accuses Furlong of "deliberately misleading" the military leadership on the "legal basis" for the program.

The inquiry further recommends that the Pentagon clarify what is legal, and what's not, when it comes to human intelligence and information operations, a recommendation initialed by Gates as "approved."

Since it was shut down in May, the Furlong program has been replaced by an enhanced structure of intelligence collection, along the lines of Flynn's blueprint. Flynn, who has been tapped for a top job working for the director of national intelligence, added new layers of collection and analysis, including a staff with field operatives who travel and function like media reporters.

Furlong says his team operated in much the same way.

The Capstone contract was run by Lockheed Martin and staffed by subcontractors including Strategic Influence Alternatives and International Media Ventures, a communications company based in St. Petersburg, Fla., with Czech ownership.

There are two more Pentagon investigations under way into the matter, including one by the Defense Department inspector general, in addition to the Air Force investigation.