The Defense Department used contractors to track and kill militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The legality of this operation is questionable and further concerns are raised by the fact that it may have gone 'rogue'.
This morning, the New York Times detailed the potential problems with the operation:
It is generally considered illegal for the military to hire contractors to act as covert spies. Officials said Mr. Furlong’s secret network might have been improperly financed by diverting money from a program designed to merely gather information about the region.
Furlong, a former Air Force Officer was hired to fill a contract to gather information about the region to then be used by the armed forces. By hiring former Navy Seals and other retired special forces veterans as civilians he was able to employ them in Pakistan without violating the prohibition against American military forces operating in Pakistan. However, it is alleged that the information they provided was then used to guide and inform drone strikes within Afghanistan.
This situation raises questions about the meaning of the prohibition and whether the military is following the letter of the law but not its spirit. Ex-members of the military are providing the information to the armed forces and they are then using unmanned aerial vehicles to carry out the attacks. In the strictest sense military personnel are not entering Pakistan. However, their informants and their weapons are.
The accusations have ignited the blogosphere today. On watchingthewatchers.org Dexter Filkin responded to the assertion that the operatives had been involved in the Iran-contra scandal 25 years ago with, "Furlong is now in trouble, but what I want to know is how the heck are the same scumbags involved every time? Iran-Contra, Jebus that was decades ago."
Thedailybeast.com stated, "Furlong's operation has been shut down and he’s now the subject of a criminal investigation; no one’s sure who sanctioned Furlong's work."
The armed forces have been reluctant to respond in detail to the accusations. According to the NYTimes:
Col. Kathleen Cook, a spokeswoman for United States Strategic Command, which oversees Mr. Furlong’s work, declined to make him available for an interview. Military officials said Mr. Furlong, a retired Air Force officer, is now a senior civilian employee in the military, a full-time Defense Department employee based at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Questions being raised include how the operation was funded, who sanctioned it and who was aware of it.