AfPax Insider Is Death

by Joshua Foust on 3/15/2010 · 7 comments

In 2008, I mocked Robert Young Pelton. I know, right? Shocking! But read why:

I believe he is saying there is something dishonorable, or unnatural, about people getting paid to participate in a war. This, along with the baseless assertion that “mercenaries” (a general, pejorative, and somewhat meaningless term) are “above the law,” forms the basis of his argument for… I guess more soldiers? Because that’s sort of what he’s saying.

Indeed, the essence of what Pelton was complaining about was the use of contractors replacing soldiers in many aspects of warfare. He even left a comment, complaining that George W. Bush “dove headfirst into the free market model of warfare and it doesn’t work.” He was fairly unequivocal: hiring non-soldiers to do the job of soldiers is an immoral thing, something to be undertaken only with the most serious consideration… Unless your own company is at stake. Then, it’s time to run to the press.

Under the cover of a benign government information-gathering program, a Defense Department official set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants, according to military officials and businessmen in Afghanistan and the United States…

The contractor, Robert Young Pelton, an author who writes extensively about war zones, said that the government hired him to gather information about Afghanistan and that Mr. Furlong improperly used his work. “We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people,” Mr. Pelton said.

He said that he and Eason Jordan, a former television news executive, had been hired by the military to run a public Web site to help the government gain a better understanding of a region that bedeviled them. Recently, the top military intelligence official in Afghanistan publicly said that intelligence collection was skewed too heavily toward hunting terrorists, at the expense of gaining a deeper understanding of the country.

Instead, Mr. Pelton said, millions of dollars that were supposed to go to the Web site were redirected by Mr. Furlong toward intelligence gathering for the purpose of attacking militants.

In one example, Mr. Pelton said he had been told by Afghan colleagues that video images that he posted on the Web site had been used for an American strike in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan.

I’m still gathering my thoughts on this, but think about the balls it takes to write a story in 2008 complaining about the government improperly using contractors, only to then complain in 2010 that your own multi-million dollar contract went south and may have been used to kill people. There are aspects to this story I’m still working through—how in the name of God a web video could satisfy the intel requirements for a lethal strike, for example, or just how many local informants Pelton endangered by going public as a participant in a lethal U.S. intelligence operation—but I’m amazed, and kind of sickened, that it wasn’t until his company got jilted on money that the man grew a conscience and went public with what turned out to be a shady deal.

It’s also kind of bizarre to see a man like Pelton—who brags about being smarter and awesomer and harder core and more cynical than anyone else—be used to completely by some IO flack. His company was promised millions of dollars to be included in what he knew to be a military intelligence gathering operation, but only went public when the money he was promised didn’t materialize.

Despite his pleas to the contrary, and despite some remarks by some of his acquaintances, I just don’t see how this ends up making Pelton look like a victim. Especially when contextualized in his previously vigilant stances against military contractors, he looks more like a willing participant who got burned and went public. A hypocrite, in other words.

I’m still asking around about this one—I’ll report back if I find anything.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Colin Cookman March 15, 2010 at 7:40 pm

That story is almost as convoluted-ly organized as Pelton’s “Licensed to Kill” book; I read the piece forwards four times and backwards three and still don’t think I’ve totally got a handle on what it is that allegedly went on. I hope there is more to the “private contactors being used for targeting intel” theme than the brief line from Pelton about how his company (as opposed to the other two described, which the story suggests at but doesn’t really seem to substantiate) was used for targeting. But even that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, as aren’t Predator strikes in the FATA conducted by the CIA, not the DOD?

Joshua Foust March 15, 2010 at 11:09 pm

I agree, it was a bit circular in organization. I think that’s why Attackerman called it “baroque,” which I found delightfully anachronistic of him.

AJK March 15, 2010 at 11:08 pm

I find it difficult to focus on Pelton here when some guy at DoD was given free reign to run around with a few million and play Splinter Cell.

I can’t blame Pelton, necessarily, if he was just trying to start something like NewEurasia and started not caring about his sponsors. I don’t think there are any real victims out of who was named in that story: everyone got money, everybody got to chase their dream.

I’m more upset that those millions went to a bunch of Mil folks instead of a bunch of regional experts (Pelton’s a violence expert, big difference) who would actually KNOW local context. But the whole “funding from USMil/Intel should’ve been a tip. On that note, though, what’s the major difference between this sort of thing and HTTs and PRTs?

Joshua Foust March 15, 2010 at 11:14 pm

AJK, I’m only focusing on Pelton right now because I found the contrast between what he’s written before on similar topics to be of interest for how he’s featuring in this story now. In that post I linked he’s disputed my characterization, and suggested I don’t really understand what’s going on. So it’s entirely possible I’m flat out wrong, this is just a gut reaction thing.

I’m still trying to work out what, exactly, actually happened. If the story about a video on AfPax Insider being used for a drone strike is accurate, that is a serious violation of drone ROE on the part of whomever used it (unless it got funneled to the CIA, in which case I don’t know). If, on the other hand, it looks like a bunch of letter and memos got drafter and some money disappeared down the rabbit hole, then it’s probably not as big a story and some people have egg on their face. As written, I can’t really pull out what the actual scandal is, since Filkins and Mazetti don’t identify anyone who was actually killed by the supposed assassination ring.

As for HTTs and PRTs… well, they’re tightly bounded by law. Neither are legally permitted to engage in lethal targeting, or to gather intelligence for lethal targeting. HTTs in particular have strong by-laws about offering informed consent to interview subjects (at least as best as one can reasonably expect in an area like Afghanistan)—which is markedly different from a local giving an interview to a local journalist who then sells that information to the military.

From what I understand, this Furlong character was operating outside the law. Even if nothing happened, the way he used that money seems to have taken place outside what would be considered appropriate. But I don’t know, and the piece didn’t really say.

CTuttle March 16, 2010 at 5:44 pm

As google touts AfPax Insider…

AfPax Insider: The world’s premier Afghanistan and Pakistan-focused Web site. Free 24/7 up-to-the-minute news providing an unrivaled combination of …

Funny how there’s no posting whatsoever for 2010…!

Love the content too…! (Britney Spears and faux Oakley’s…?)

Our US taxpayer dollars hard at work again…!

Imagine the damage you would wrought, Joshua, with even a tenth of that swag…? 😉

John Stanton March 18, 2010 at 11:49 am

Greetings! John here. Love the info on this site.

Here is an update (link) on JIEDDO-HTS-Furlong…Also AR 15-6 is being conducted in the program.

Issue with HTS, one of ’em, was how information was to be used in Kill Chain. Role of journalists is not that much different…Gotta know what you are getting into when in the murky world of conflict…Anyway, agree on Pelton. How is it that he was “tricked” by an aging white male in the USA employed by STRATCOM? Pelton has survived a 1000 dangerous situations and could not recognize this one. Well, maybe the next installment of Come Back Alive will be how he survived this episode.

John Stanton March 18, 2010 at 1:54 pm

I’ve updated the link (John Stanton) I gave to include HTS Under Investigation. Also, as in the previous version, added a couple of comments.

Max Forte has a truckload, literally, of information on HTS to include a hefty bibliography. He and Mr. Pelton have been discussing the latest Furlong-JIEDDO-Kill Chain stuff. The Furlong business is as sloppy as HTS. Competing Rice Bowls are upset. That’s the story, in part.

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