Michael Furlong, the long-time Defense Department official who set up and ran network of private intelligence collectors for the military, is being hung out to dry by the very forces that precipitated the network's formation in the first place.
Here's the skinny: form follows function in the military, and the
U.S. Strategic Command, or STRATCOM, has been aggressively moving into
territory traditionally occupied by other military elements and the
Central Intelligence Agency. They're doing it under the cover of
something called IO -- Information Operations -- which they've adapted as
one of their core missions. (The others: cybersecurity, which overlaps
with IO, nuclear weapons, and space defense.)
Around 2004 or 2005, STRATCOM set up what it calls the Joint
Information Operations Warfare Center in San Antonio, Texas. IO ops are
run from here. Most everyone involved in this controversy, from Furlong
to his superiors to the contractor intelligence gatherers, went through
the JIOWC at some point in their careers.
CIA doesn't think STRATCOM should play in this lane. But neither does
Robert Gates, the Defense Secretary, or the State Department, or the
National Security Staff. Information Operations involves five fields:
deception, psychological operations, computer network operations,
electronic warfare and operations security. When you hear these terms, you
think military, war, penetration of secret bunkers and the like. The
State Department and the others want to make sure that Information
Operations don't conflict with what they call Strategic Communications
-- getting the message out that the US isn't fighting against Islam,
that the Afghan military is a credible institution. State sees IO from
the perspective of an ad agency: what does the customer need? STRATCOM
sees IO from the perspective of a military targeter: what's the target,
and how to we use all resources to manipulate it.
problem is that the main thrust of the current administration's
strategy for combating terrorism involves strategic communication,
State Department-style. There is room for both approaches, of course,
but there isn't room for an entity like STRATCOM to make unilateral
decisions about how to influence the adversary.
the Defense Department, there are a lot of people who work in
Information Operations and few of them who actually are well trained in
the art of deceptive communications. And other parts of the military
already "own" parts of the portfolio. The Special Operations Command is
in charge of psychological and unconventional warfare. It's not
surprising the STRATCOM wants all the territory it can get. Electronic
Warfare is particularly lucrative, because all the technology feeds
hundreds of millions of dollars to major defense companies like Boeing
and Northrop Grumman.
This leads to a final
point--who in the government actually owns information operations and
strategic communications? Good question. A 1991 law tried to split the
baby by saying that attribution is the main issue--if some activity is
stealth and covert, then it belongs to the CIA as "covert action"; if it's
an obvious attempt to influence opinion, then it belongs to the DoD.
has all this to do with Furlong, et al? Well, the lack of a unified IO
field theory has left serious gaps. Into those gaps go the
contractors--mostly retired military, intelligence or government
people--who provide the needed services.
As it shifted to a counterinsurgency doctrine in Iraq, the Pentagon stood up so-called "Human Terrain Teams"
under the aegis of the doctrine and training command, composed of
social scientists and anthropologists who are supposed to help combat
units understand the culture of the non-combatants they inevitably come
across. This sounds more innocuous than it is. The social science
itself is questionable. And the question of what the HTTs are supposed to do -- help the military kill people more efficiently -- has set up a nasty debate
inside academia and the Pentagon. Should the civilians use their skills
to help military intelligence folks construct databases of
relationships between tribal leaders? If if they shouldn't, is that
what they're doing? Are military contractors using the HTTs to create
more opportunities to profit? (Absolutely). Being on an HTT is also
dangerous. Civilian scientists are getting killed. The HTTs are being looked at.
the case, Furlong provided a service and was left by senior executive
service types to hold the bag while they ran for it when they got
caught with their hand in the cookie jar.
That's the main reason why Furlong's operation is still running. It's
providing a useful service for the military, though it might be
illegal, and there's nothing, really, that's ready to replace it.
Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.