By Craig Whitlock
Wednesday, March 24, 2010; A04
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has ordered a review of the military's information operations programs in response to allegations that private contractors ran an unauthorized spy ring in Afghanistan.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Tuesday that Gates had instructed a small group of senior officials to determine whether there were any "systemic problems" with the operations, which include electronic warfare, psychological operations and other noncombat programs and have a budget this year of more than $500 million.
Gates's decision was prompted by reports that a senior Defense Department official, Michael D. Furlong, hired contractors to run a $24 million intelligence-gathering program to track down suspected insurgent leaders in Afghanistan. The program was shut down late last year after the CIA and some military officials complained that Furlong was operating an off-the-books spy network.
The Defense Department's inspector general and other Pentagon officials have already launched investigations into Furlong's activities. But Gates wanted a broader review, Morrell said.
The review is "designed to provide the secretary with a factual baseline from which to determine whether or not systemic problems exist, and if so, the proper scope and focus of subsequent corrective action," Morrell said at a news conference.
Gates has given the team of senior officials 15 days to conduct the review. Morrell declined to identify the officials involved. "It's certainly not unusual for the secretary to task people in his office to look into something for him, and you never know who it is who's doing it," he said.
Furlong has denied wrongdoing. He told the San Antonio Express-News last week that all his activities had been requested and approved by top U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan.
Furlong works as a strategic planner and civilian adviser to the Joint Information Operations Warfare Center, based at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Military officials said he remains employed by the Defense Department, although Furlong told the Express-News that he had been locked out of his office. Details of his work in Afghanistan were first reported last week by the New York Times.