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Private US spy network still on in Pakistan, Afghanistan

world Updated: May 16, 2010 08:39 IST

AFP
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Despite official denials, a secret network of private spies set up by a US Defense Department official continues to operate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, The New York Times reported late Saturday.

Citing unnamed US officials and businessmen, the newspaper said the network was still operating, the paper reported.

Its reports on Taliban activities, especially in Pakistan, were submitted almost daily to top US commanders in the region.

The Times reported in March that Defense Department official Michael Furlong had set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants.

He did this under the cover of a benign government information-gathering program.

In the wake of those reports, US government officials said it was a rogue operation that had been shut down once an investigation had begun.

But interviews with more than a dozen current and former government officials and businessmen, and an examination of government documents, suggested otherwise, the paper said.

Over time, the operation had appeared to morph into traditional spying activities, the report noted.

And while Furlong was indeed under investigation, a review of the program by The Times found that his operatives were still providing information using the same intelligence gathering methods as before.

The contractors were still being paid under a 22-million-dollar contract managed by defense corporation Lockheed Martin and supervised by the Pentagon office in charge of special operations policy, the paper said.

The US military is largely prohibited from operating inside Pakistan, The Times noted. And under Pentagon rules, the army is not allowed to hire contractors for spying.