Official in Spy Case Resigns
Published: September 28, 2011 (Issue # 1676)
WASHINGTON — A man accused of running an illegal contractor spy ring in Afghanistan has resigned from the U.S. Air Force, still maintaining his innocence, and still facing possible criminal charges.
Two investigations continue in a case that has tested the definition of what contractors are allowed to do in war zones.
Air Force civilian employee Michael Furlong, together with his boss, Mark Johnson, resigned in July after the Air Force inspector general told the men they’d face official censure for how they ran an information gathering network in Afghanistan.
“After 17 months of DOD investigations and an FBI investigation, it was determined that no criminal laws were broken,” Furlong wrote in his August 12 resignation letter, obtained by The Associated Press.
But inquiries continue by the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Pentagon’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service, a senior defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters still under legal review.
The CIA alleged in late 2009 that Furlong’s private military contractors were running an illegal covert spying network in Afghanistan and Pakistan, managed by legendary ex-spymaster Duane R. Clarridge. The then-CIA station chief complained those contractors were helping target terrorists for capture and kill operations, and getting in the way of agency operations on the ground, according to multiple U.S. officials briefed on the investigation. All officials spoke anonymously to discuss intelligence matters.
A series of reports by The New York Times first exposed the controversy, leading then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates to order a review. A Defense Department inquiry dated June 2010, obtained by the AP, concluded Furlong’s “Information Operations Capstone” had hidden clandestine spying activity beneath layers of legitimate information collection, violating Pentagon policy and leading to the more in-depth investigations.
Furlong and Clarridge maintained to investigators that they were operating a legal network of paid informants, gathering data on everything from gas prices and local clan disputes to enemy threats against coalition forces. The information was used for everything from mapping tribal loyalties to tracking Taliban bomb-building cells before they could strike, two defense officials said.
Clarridge said what he did was no different than what a foreign news network would do, using a system of freelance local stringers across the country to gather information.