Spy Contractor v. Spy Contractor

Mark Mazzetti has a follow-up story to his previous expose of a DOD-funded contractor network conducting spying in Pakistan. In an article providing many new details about complaints from CIA about the DOD contractor, he comes pretty close to admitting that this turf war focuses at least partly on whose contractors–rather than whose officers–are conducting the spying in Pakistan.

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the expanded role of contractors on the battlefield — from interrogating prisoners to hunting terrorism suspects — has raised questions about whether the United States has outsourced some of its most secretive and important operations to a private army many fear is largely unaccountable. The C.I.A. has relied extensively on contractors in recent years to carry out missions in war zones.

The exposure of the spying network also reveals tensions between the Pentagon and the C.I.A., which itself is running a covert war across the border in Pakistan. In December, a cable from the C.I.A.’s station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan, to the Pentagon argued that the military’s hiring of its own spies could have disastrous consequences, with various networks possibly colliding with one another.

As much as it appears that this story is a CIA attempt to make sure this DOD effort is not renewed when its contract expires this month, this is still fundamentally a story about contractor v. contractor, not spy v. spy.

That said, Mazzetti’s story provides some interesting new details about those contractors. I’m particularly interested in new details about the contractor International Media Ventures. As Mazzetti explains, one of the Generals present when DOD told CIA they’d be setting up this network has since moved onto IMV (here’s the announcement).

In October of [2008, Michael] Furlong traveled to C.I.A. headquarters with top Pentagon officials, including Brig. Gen. Robert H. Holmes, then the deputy operations officer at United States Central Command. General Holmes has since retired and is now an executive at one of the subcontractors, International Media Ventures. The meeting at the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center was set up to inform the spy agency about the military’s plans to collect “atmospheric information” about Afghanistan and Pakistan, including information about the structure of militant networks in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Mazzetti explains that IMV has Czech ownership.

The web of private businesses working under the Lockheed contract include Strategic Influence Alternatives, American International Security Corporation and International Media Ventures, a communications company based in St. Petersburg, Fla., with Czech ownership.

And describes CIA concerns about a previous effort Furlong made to set up propaganda servers in Prague.

The memo also said that Mr. Furlong had a history of delving into outlandish intelligence schemes, including an episode in 2008, when American officials expelled him from Prague for trying to clandestinely set up computer servers for propaganda operations.

It’s the last part–from the December cable sent by CIA’s Kabul station chief–in which I’m particularly interested (though the story does not say this Prague effort was an IMV effort). The turf war against Furlong, at least (and potentially IMV), extends beyond the borderlands of Pakistan and into the online world. Particularly given the timing of this (that is, back in the Bush Administration), I find that turf war as potentially interesting as the Pakistan one.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

22 replies
  1. lysias says:

    So was the original leak about Furlong just a matter of a turf battle?

    We know Blackwater aka Xe provided security at that CIA base in Afghanistan that was successfully attacked. How much else have they been doing as contractors for CIA in that part of the world?

      • katiejacob says:

        I was thinking about that too. Are you referring by any chance to the information about Blackwater contained in a a recent blog post at The Nation by Jeremy Scahill where Eric Prince gave a speech in Ann Arbor and revealed Blackwater was in Pakistan and calling the shots for the military on attacks too?

  2. bobschacht says:

    The problem with these contractors is that we don’t have full operational control of them. Just as a spy can be a double agent, so can a contractor? And just as a spy’s “handler” must always be concerned about the spy’s loyalties, so we must also be concerned with a contractor’s loyalties. There is much to worry about in these matters. Thanks for laying this out, EW.

    Bob in AZ

    • R.H. Green says:

      Reminds me of Milo Minderbinder in Heller’s Catch 22.

      And hey. Why not carry this to another level and contract out other government functions,like congress! Corporations could provide people to hold public office, even get company help in writing legislation to…(nevermind).

  3. BoxTurtle says:

    The reason that we use these contrator is to avoid congressional scrutiny. And since congress doesn’t really want to scrutinize, it works well.

    But those contractors have an adversary so frightening they won’t even mention it’s name. So fearsome that even congresscritters will not cross it. Even big brave Rush Limbaugh fears it.

    I speak of the IRS. If we really want to get the contractors under control, send the taxman after their books. You pay taxes on that bundle of cash that “vanished” in Pakistan? You properly withholding taxes from your employees paychecks? Are you issuing 1099’s for every bribe?

    Boxturtle (And some say that a Nuclear Bomb is the ultimate weapon)

  4. fatster says:

    EW, do you know if there’s a list somewhere about the contracts Blackwater/Xe has had and currently has with the US? I ended up at wiki, but it’s not quite what I wanted. Interesting, though, that Eric Prince was an intern for GWHBush.

    And many thanks for this article. Unbelievable what has and still goes on, however incomplete the information we have about it–and apparently no one is willing or knows how to stop it.

  5. marc says:

    I’ve heard some rumors in the industry that the over the top satire “War Inc” is about to be re-branded and released on HBO as a “torn from the headlines” docudrama.

  6. phred says:

    Contracting out our national intelligence efforts and military work? What could possibly go wrong?

    Thank God, such companies are motivated only by public service rather than selling their services/information to the highest bidder in the global marketplace.

    In corporate benevolence we trust.

    • fatster says:

      And thank heavens they keep all that information away from us. Who knows what we might do with it!

      • phred says:

        LOL, the intricacies of democracy are far beyond the comprehension of the rabble. Best to not worry their pretty little heads ; )

        Now move along and do as your told…

  7. boltbrain says:

    “The reason that we use these contrator is to avoid congressional scrutiny”.

    Or maybe more of a happy byproduct. Less captured military and C.I.A. personnel.

  8. Adam503 says:

    This is the kind of crazy no-accountability atmosphere that the Phoenix program was created….

    The Phoenix Program (Vietnamese: Chiến dịch Phụng Hoàng, a word related to fenghuang, the Chinese phoenix) was a military, intelligence, and internal security program designed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and coordinated and executed by the Republic of Vietnam’s (South Vietnam) security apparatus and US Special Operations Forces such as the Navy SEALs, United States Army Special Forces and MACV-SOG (now Special Operations Group in the CIA’s Special Activities Division) during the Vietnam War. The Program was designed to identify and “neutralize” (via infiltration, capture, terrorism, or assassination) the civilian infrastructure supporting the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF or Viet Cong) insurgency….”

    “…According to one view, Phoenix was a clear success. Between 1968 and 1972, Phoenix neutralized 81,740 NLF members, of whom 26,369 were killed. This was a large section taken out of the VCI and, between 1969 and 1971, the program was quite successful in destroying the infrastructure in many important areas. By 1970, Communist plans repeatedly emphasized attacking the government’s pacification program and specifically targeted Phoenix officials. The NLF also imposed quotas. In 1970, for example, Communist officials near Da Nang in northern South Vietnam instructed their assassins to “kill 400 persons” deemed to be government “tyrant[s]” and to “annihilate” anyone involved with the pacification program. Several North Vietnamese officials have made statements about the effectiveness of Phoenix. In the end, it was a direct conventional North Vietnamese military invasion, not the guerrilla insurgents, that defeated the South Vietnamese and their supporters.[1]

    Others view the program less favorably, arguing that ultimately, the entire counterinsurgency in Vietnam was a failure for a variety of reasons: clearly, one critical factor was that the communists had established a large and effective support cadre throughout South Vietnam before a coordinated effort was undertaken to eradicate it. While indications are that Phoenix achieved considerable success in damaging that infrastructure, it was too little and too late to change the war’s overall course.[2]

    The Phoenix Program is sometimes seen as an “assassination campaign,” and has been criticized as an example of human-rights atrocities committed by the CIA or other allied organizations, including U.S. Military Intelligence. There was eventually a series of U.S. Congressional hearings. In 1971, in the final day of hearing on U.S. Assistance Programs in Vietnam, a former serviceman named K. Barton Osborn, claimed that the Phoenix Program was a “sterile depersonalized murder program.”

    • fatster says:

      Thanks for this, though it is so painful to read. Not just one, but a very lengthy series of atrocities occurred. And not just in Vietnam, but in Laos and Cambodia, too. Unknown numbers of SE Asian lives lost, and 58,000 of members of my generation mowed down for god knows what. And it didn’t just end with the Fall of Saigon, either. It went on for another year or so during which many thousands more lives were lost.

  9. Scarecrow says:

    So, how long before we get the first stories that predator targets influenced by one contractor turned out to be intelligence assets from a rival contractor?

    This is like having the BP and MMS in charge of US foreign policy. Or maybe that’s an optimistic view.

  10. Garrett says:

    There was the March story, that the CIA and the Saudis had set up an Islamic message board as some sort of honeypot, and that DOD conducted a cyberstrike to shut it down.

    The leaked story seems in line with the turf battle you have been looking into.

    What can be considered an actual war operation, on our intelligence service, by our military.

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