Air Force Civilian Employee Resigns Over Alleged Contractor Spy Ring

Michael Furlong resigned from Air ForceBy Kimberly Dozier, AP Intelligence Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A man accused of running an illegal contractor spy ring in Afghanistan has resigned from the 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, describing the inquiries.

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.

Under the Furlong-Clarridge system, a handful of five to six foreigners - former CIA and special operations officers with experience gathering intelligence - ran a network of low-level local operatives, who asked people what they thought or worked their own sources, as directed by their "handlers."

The problem with information gathering done by a contractor is that the Rolodex of sources becomes an asset of a private company instead of the unquestioned property of the U.S. government, officials said.

That creates a loophole in which there is no way to cross-reference those human sources with existing military and CIA networks on the ground, a crucial step in assessing the veracity of information, and in making sure the same spies or tipsters aren't double-dealing to two arms of the U.S. government, or getting in the way of each other's operations, two former intelligence officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a classified process.

That issue became especially prickly for the CIA when Furlong's network started reporting threat information to the military, which Furlong says led to targets.

"Most importantly, we saved U.S. and Afghan lives with the `Force Protection Atmospherics' program," Furlong said in his letter of resignation. "We enabled the separate targeting board process and the Predator operations to be much more successful than they were . or have been since they terminated the Atmospherics program. That is verifiable fact."

Defense officials say Furlong and subcontractor Clarridge maintained their information even led to CIA Predator strikes inside Pakistan. The officials insist investigations have not proven a link between data gathered by Clarridge's network and GPS coordinates of known U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.

In his resignation letter, Furlong does note that his operation was caught in a grey area of intelligence operations, and he said he welcomed the changes in oversight that had since been put in place.

Those changes included the restructuring of how contractors gather what is known as "atmospherics," like the tone of Friday sermons at a mosque, or the mood on the street of a village toward a local official or NATO. The paid tipsters, still employed by U.S. contractors, now collect information passively, by observing and sharing what they've heard on the street.

Those changes came too late for at least one of the other contractors Furlong employed under his multi-armed intelligence network. Tampa-based International Media Ventures (IMV) shut its doors, turned radioactive by association with the investigations, even as high-ranking Pentagon officials praised IMV's work gathering social and civil data to map Afghan society - work that is now being carried out by another contractor.

Another one of the firms involved, Strategic Influence Alternatives, went back to the business of protecting corporate executives overseas.

Clarridge is now shopping his human-intelligence networking skills to other foreign intelligence agencies, and to U.S. agencies like the FBI, the defense officials say. Clarridge would not comment for this story.

Defense officials said Furlong told investigators he is confident he'll be cleared.

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I love the headline "was contractor an illegal spy?". As opposed to a legal spy? Aren't spies generally illegal?

September 27 2011 at 8:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hi there aliens

What is the difference between a legal spy and an illegal spy?

September 27 2011 at 6:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The 3 hikers caught in Iran a couple years ago were jewish spies, thats why America spent millions of taxpayers dollars to get them released.

September 27 2011 at 4:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
James G. Banks

They killed the bad guys. Boo Hoo CIA. Grow the F up.

September 27 2011 at 3:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Look at his face. Everybody thinks he's a spy, he's got Bette Davis eyes.....

A private spy corporation? That would never happen. Except in the US, where as much as 70% is subcontracted out to private companies.

Sounds like the group somehow got outed and the CIA cut them loose to fend for themselves.

September 27 2011 at 3:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They are argueing over who gets credit for the kill?

September 27 2011 at 3:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How may innocent civillians were killed, and how many American soldiers were saved? I bet quite a few "casualties of war" were there. Casualties of war don't count as "innocent" as far as the U.S goes, if the media doesn't report then we may never know just how many innocent were really killed or wounded.

September 27 2011 at 2:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to taurus7125's comment

Killed by whom. Your idelogical rant, so often screamed by teenage girls at rallies, infers the US and the Nato allies are responsible for them all. Most of the deaths in either war were perpetrated by Iraqis of the Hussain variety including the sunnies, the shiits by Muqtada el Sadr, al quada or the Syrian fighters. In Afganistan the Talliban before during and since are killing afganies. Muslims are killing muslims by the hundreds. You want a count? Ask Momar how many kids he assigned to blow up, how many car bombs. In Iraq, the al quada fools used to take their whole extended families to celebrations and planning meetings as cover and shields. They are attacked whenever possible. The so called innocent civilians were set out at judas goats to allow attrocities to be blamed on US. Did we kill innocents, Yes, unavoidably and sadly. But you, you bull thrower, have you any solution. Spare us the magical thinking that no war should be allowed. Have you been to the 911 site at all. Are you really so smug and officious. Taurus is right, and your patties are in your post.

September 27 2011 at 3:41 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Sounds like a turf war and he was doing things better then the agency. They get kinda touchy when others out do them,

September 27 2011 at 1:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Was he an ILLEGAL spy? Is there such a thing as a LEGAL spy?

September 27 2011 at 12:12 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Daniel's comment

Funny, but the distinction is legal and enforced. Spying even for the good guys is reserved to governments, and only the rules set forth by the governments are legal They don't have to be nice, or morel, but covert actions outside these laws are crimes. Vigilantes are not welcome in any area.

September 27 2011 at 3:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Of course there is.

July 23 2013 at 12:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We're worried about this guy while thousands of Chinese nationals are sifting through our industrial and military secrets?

September 27 2011 at 12:08 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bigred8690's comment

They can't sift us. We don't even have astronauts. All of our industrial tooling is made in China or Japan or in a country with a space program. We have Emeiril Lagasse. He can sift chicken wings in Cajun style flour. What a guy....Al-

September 27 2011 at 7:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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