The Chim chims are intel weenies as regular readers of the FRI blog have probably deduced. They are all former members of our Armed Forces, they are all working in their field of expertise today with traditional Pentagon contractors and none of them is involved with this supposed “contractor spy ring.” Despite this they have been all over this story and pestering me to post more on it. I get too much attention when I do and remain concerned that blow-back from this story will eventually hit my friends and I who remain in the field working the reconstruction fight. But I’ve been hanging out in Dubai on R&R and it is going to take some time to catch up on the day job so I’m throwing up a Chim chim post on the topic to cover me while I catch up with all the stuff I was supposed to be paying attention to when I was away.
My son Logan spent the last three months in Jalalabad with me teaching a class on digital photography for the MIT Fab Folk at the Jalalabad Fab Lab. Here is the link to his blog (blogs are required on all Fab Folk missions) and I think it is hysterically funny which was not his intent. This is probably his last visit to Afghanistan – the security situation has degraded to the point where keeping him safe was a major operation. Many thanks to my Afghan colleagues JD and Zaki for devising and maintaining a safety box in which Logan could operate and of course to Haji jan who watched over him every second he was out of my eye sight. I’m inserting pictures of Logan and I on the range because it’s my way of bragging on my boy. The remainder of the post is from Chim Chim.
With the recent spate of NYT blather about the U.S. Military’s use of contractors to conduct intelligence activities, the official kneejerk response from the Department of Defense (DoD) was to announce that the original contract was shut down, and that the Department was conducting investigations
Officials say Mr. Furlong’s operation seems to have been shut down, and he is now is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Defense Department for a number of possible offenses, including contract fraud.
Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had ordered officials to assess the department’s information operations particularly whether information gathered and disseminated for defensive efforts was being used inappropriately to help stage offensive operations.
What is disturbing in this entire hubbub is the absence of any official commentary challenging mainstream media assertions. What ever happened to the old cliche don’t believe everything that you read? We know from this same reporting source that the program was not shut down. In fact, a piece of the program, the piece involving Mr. Pelton, was shut down last year. However, the entire program was not shut down because it was a legitimate, contracted information support service. So the media got it wrong from the beginning. Big surprise there.
In addition to the lack of critical thought by the Department of Defense in response to media-backed accusations about fraud, there was no repeat, no effort to directly counter the implications that these contractors were conducting intelligence activities. In fact, DoD let the media become an arm of the U.S. national policy process by allowing it to dictate reality in the absence of fact. The Defense spokesman Morrell failed. He failed the Department, and he failed the Executive Branch because he did not step back and look at the media inquiries clinically enough to develop a reply in a way that reflected fact and policy vice conjecture.
At the center of this mess are three key issues that, had they been explored, would have taken the wind out of this non-controversy. First, if you haven’t been paying attention, the U.S. Government contracts services. It has done so forever, and it saves money, keeps government smaller, and is more efficient as a result. In fact, it contracts individuals to do intelligence related activities. Why not? With Congressionally mandated manpower limitations, employing experienced former or retired specialists at a fraction of the cost to the Government to supplement official capabilities-gaps is a no-brainer. One need only revisit the Department of Defense’s estimate that it costs the uniformed services roughly one million dollars a year per service member in combat. Comparatively, it costs less than half that figure to employ seasoned contract specialists in the same environment.
The second issue is the idea that these or any contractors would perform their respective tasks without a sufficient level of oversight. Since the beginning of this war, Defense Contracting has had to deal with a plethora of scandals and oversight failures. In response, the bureaucracy has imposed draconian checks and balances to prevent fraud, insure contract performance, and to meet critical mission requirements. The idea that the contractors or their contracted service somehow exceeded the scope of the contract just does not make sense. Right?
Some Pentagon officials said that over time the operation appeared to morph into traditional spying activities.
Though one could argue that some contractors work just as selflessly as their military counter-parts, it is inane to argue that any private corporation would risk its financial status or its business reputation to transition from providing information services to running something as complex or as risky as an intelligence network.
Third in the list of key issues are the statutory duties and responsibilities dictated under U.S. Code, National Law if you will. Under the U.S. Code, Departments in the Executive Branch have their own sections or Titles that specify their unique roles and functions. Those areas reserved traditionally for the Department of Defense fall under Title 10 and reflect the roles of organize, train, equip, and conduct national defense activities. Separately, those functions set aside for intelligence fall under Title 50. Title 50 has similar organize, train and equip mandates. It also has special provisions that regulate national intelligence initiatives. Those Title 50 elements are very specific, and are delegated to our national intelligence community (IC). Though generally controlled by the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), they have been extended to the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) as wellof course they have because he controls 80% of the national intelligence budget.
Though the SECDEF could have delegated Title 50 authority for these types of contract activities under some justification such as intelligence support to Information Operations, why would he? The scope, intent, and nature of the contract, from all descriptions, do not meet the threshold of intelligence. Free Dictionary.Com does as good a job as any in defining military intelligence:
n. Abbr. MI
1. Information relating to the armed forces of a foreign country that is significant to the planning and conduct of another country’s military doctrine, policy, and operations.
2. An agency of the armed forces that procures, analyzes, and uses information of tactical and strategic military value.
However, such a definition is reflective of official definitions across the board and is the reason why the current dialog is of interest. As broad as this description is, the controversy between official agencies and departments is serving to constrain rather than empower organizational capabilities. Think about it! Is information really intelligence? Intelligence is comprised of information, but there are a number of essential components to information that must occur for it to be intel-worthy. These components include sources, analysis, and relevance, to name a few.
Sources of information are a critical consideration. One can only imagine that any contractor operating in Afghanistan would be working with locals to provide feedback. How reliable that feedback is can only be characterized over time. In the absence of some formal, governmentally managed process to measure and validate these locals, any information is simply word-on-the-street or rumor. One can never judge the personal agenda of these local sorucesare they telling us something they think we want to here? Are they feeding us information that someone else wants us to here? In any event, any ongoing DoD effort, including support contracts, would violate the tenants of Title 50 (unless they were specifically capable of and hired to do perform intelligence functions with vetted sources). All information from whoever would have to be ignored because its intelligence and not my job, and our men and women in harms way would have to fight in a discovery learning environment stealing their commanders’ initiative and any tactical advantage they need to understand and dominate in a complex operating environment.
Analysis of this information is equally essential to its value as intelligence. In this case, one would have to assume that DoD embedded analysts in the contract production process or was directly exploiting the contractors’ reports for analysis. The information could not be finished intelligence and thus potentially used to conduct some action or form some policy without that level of scrutiny. Of course, if DoD was doing this all along, then any argument of rogue officials or rogue contractors is lost because it would take senior level decisions to authorize limited analytical resources to be committed to such an effort.
Relevance of information is another important consideration in its relation to intelligence. Something not mentioned in the definition above is the idea that any information collected is answering some requirement. In military parlance, priority information requirements (PIR) or intelligence requirements (IR). Unless this rogue contract spy network is responding to some kind of official task to answer important questions, any information is essentially wide-area optics or open sourcea shotgun blast if you will. The information could answer any number of demographic, technical, and operational questions, and, yes, it may contribute to the body of information supporting intelligence. But, that last piece could only happen if some DoD intelligence official decided to use it. THAT MEANS that the contractor’s work may fill an intelligence information void. In and of itself, however, the information service was just thata service. There are a number of contract outfits out there providing these same types of atmospherics, and at any time that information could be of intel value. They aren’t rogue? Are they? How the Government chooses to use contracted information products, as information deliverables, is the Government’s decision.
At the end of the day, the current Administration has not provided the needed manpower to meet the fundamental military exigencies in combat. Contracted logistics support, staff augmentation, local security, and even information support services are helping to fill those capabilities voids, arguably saving lives US, coalition, and Afghan. These services contribute, in their own way, to meeting the needs of our service men and women the most important resources we have. So what is the problem here?