Afghanistan spy contract goes sour
By Pratap Chatterjee
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 United States government.
The contract built on his decade-long experience in running propaganda programs
for the military in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq.
Officially, Furlong worked in strategic communications for General David
Petraeus, the head of the US Central Command. In reality, Furlong was in charge
of a project titled "Capstone", under which he hired former Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) and US Special Forces operatives who helped him
gather intelligence on the whereabouts of "suspected militants and the location
camps" that was then transmitted to high-ranking Pentagon and CIA officials for
"possible lethal action in Afghanistan and Pakistan".
To do this, Furlong allegedly tapped the Joint Improvised Explosive Device
Defeat Organization, a Pentagon research organization that aims to reduce the
threat from roadside bombs, to provide him with a US$24.6 million 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 Program Office in Dahlgren, Virginia.
With this money, he allegedly 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 Inter
Press Service (IPS) that he opted out of the program 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" (ie, drone strikes) was incompatible with "the now accepted
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 CIA
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 chief executive officer 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 contract signed in 2005.
On IMV's website, Pack, who once ran Delta Force (the elite US commando unit)
also claims to have been a mission planner for a rescue of US prisoners of war
in Laos, the aborted 1980 rescue mission to free US Embassy hostages in Tehran,
the US 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
AISC employed Duane "Dewey" Clarridge, a former senior CIA 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 harbors in 1984 to destabilize 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," Joseph E Persico quotes Gates as saying in a book.
"Just make sure you have a good lawyer at his elbow - Dewey's not easy to
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 US 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 US 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 US
doctor to drug the guards and supply the rope. Pelton says these claims aroused
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
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 authorized" the operation but
that the "potential for disaster" was obvious.
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 US
Strategic Command Joint Information Operations Warfare Center 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.