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Pentagon investigating alleged private spy network

Tue Mar 23 02:16:17 EST 2010
Mon Mar 22 15:16:17 UTC 2010

WASHINGTON, March 22 AFP - US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Monday said he had potential concerns about an alleged spying network of contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan run by a Pentagon official, but that he still lacked information about the reported operation.

The New York Times has reported that the Defence Department official, Michael Furlong, had set up the network to track and kill suspected militants in the region, under the guise of an information-gathering program.

"Quite frankly, in principle I would have concerns about that but I don't know enough to know whether... it took place and if so, whether there was value added," Gates said when asked about the report at a press conference with his Canadian counterpart, Peter MacKay.

The role of private contractors in collecting intelligence in the field "is something I need to know more about," said Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

"We do have reviews and investigations going on to find out what the story is here, to find out what the facts are," he said.

"And if it's necessary to make some changes I'll do that."

Gates added that the Pentagon was deeply involved in intelligence work, with about 85 per cent of the US intelligence budget devoted to Defence Department agencies.

Citing unnamed military officials and businessmen in Afghanistan and the United States, the New York Times had reported that the defence official had hired contractors from private security companies employing ex-CIA and Special Forces agents.

These contractors were then supposed to gather intelligence on suspected militants and their hideouts, which was fed to military units and intelligence officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan for use in possible strikes.

Some US officials told the Times they were concerned Furlong could be running an unofficial spy operation, adding they were not sure who condoned and supervised his work.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman last week called the allegations in the report "serious."