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.