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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Private Spies: DOD Investigating Use Of Contractors To Track, Kill Militants

We salute the DOD for stopping murder for hire under the false pretense of "National Security."

Private Spies: DOD Investigating Use Of Contractors To Track, Kill Militants

Private Spies: DOD Investigating Use Of Contractors To Track, Kill Militants

Private Spies


WASHINGTON — A Defense Department official is under investigation for allegedly hiring private contractors to gather intelligence on suspected insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a U.S. official said Monday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case, told The Associated Press that Michael D. Furlong directed a defense contract to gather information about the region that could be shared with military units. After military officials suspected that he was using Defense Department money for an off-the-books spy operation, defense officials shut down that part of the contract, the official said.

The story was first reported by The New York Times in Monday's editions, quoting unidentified military and business sources as saying that Furlong, now a senior civilian employee at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, hired subcontractors who had former U.S. intelligence and special forces operatives on their payrolls. The newspaper said some of the information collected by the contractors was used to track down and attack militants.

"The story makes some serious allegations and raises numerous unanswered questions that warrant further review by the department," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Monday.

The military in mid-2008 put Furlong in charge of a program to use private companies to gather information about Afghanistan's political and tribal culture, the Times reported.

Part of the original $22 million contract that Furlong was directing remains intact, the official told the AP, because it provides the funding for nine workers involved in information-gathering, translation and similar work. Those workers are employed by International Media Ventures with offices in Florida, Texas and elsewhere.

Nine employees from International Media Ventures were hired by the U.S. military to serve as information analysts and in other administrative jobs at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters operations center in Kabul, said Maj. Steven Cole, a spokesman for the international military coalition in Afghanistan.

"We are not aware of, nor responsible for, any other activities performed by this company or any of its subsidiaries," Cole said.

Furlong continues to work for U.S. Strategic Command as a "strategic planner and technology integration adviser" at the Joint Information Operations Warfare Center at Lackland Air Force Base.

Master Sgt. Kevin Allen, a spokesman for U.S. Strategic Command, said Furlong began working there in February 2008 but was soon assigned to support U.S. Central Command, which oversees the war in Afghanistan.

Allen declined to make Furlong available for an interview or confirm that Furlong was under investigation.


Riechmann reported from Kabul.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Covina arrests mystify a neighborhood

Covina arrests mystify a neighborhood

After two Mexican federal agents and two others were arrested in July on drug-related charges, little has emerged about the case and residents are puzzled.

By Paul Pringle

January 2, 2009

The residents of North Monte Verde Drive, a stretch of oak-shaded suburban calm in the Covina area, normally would feel safe knowing that two off-duty police officers were visiting the neighborhood.

Not this time. These officers were far from home -- agents of the Mexican federal police -- and they ended up on the wrong side of a bust, with a fortune in cash that prosecutors say was tied to narcotics trafficking.

The raid in July raised the specter that the often-brutal workings of the Mexican drug trade have reached deep into Southern California. But five months later, the fuller background of the case remains a mystery.

"We all just sort of went, 'Yikes!' " Susan Wood, a longtime Monte Verde resident, said of the possible link between her neighborhood and the mayhem a country away. "This isn't a drug-trafficky area at all."

No connections to Mexican drug syndicates have been alleged in the Covina case, and defense attorneys say there are none. But speculation has been fueled by the fact that authorities have been unusually tight-lipped about the circumstances surrounding the arrests and the direction of their investigation.

One of the Mexican suspects, a federal police commander based in the border city of Mexicali, is believed to have been the target of an assassination attempt there last summer, when gunmen shot up his car and killed two of his aides.

The commander, Carlos Cedano Filippini, 35, was not in the vehicle at the time. Mexican media reported that Cedano abandoned his job after the shooting.

He was the second Mexican federal officer arrested in a Southern California drug probe in three weeks. Earlier in July, agents from the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement arrested Omar Lugo and another man in Riverside County on suspicion of transporting 154 pounds of cocaine in their car. A judge later ordered the two suspects released, ruling in favor of defense attorneys who said officers had lacked probable cause to search the car, said Orlando Lopez, a special agent in charge for the bureau. That ruling is under appeal and an investigation is continuing, Lopez said.

Narcotics-related violence in Mexico claimed more than 5,000 lives last year, as rival drug cartels battle over smuggling routes and beleaguered government forces press a crackdown. The spoils of the carnage are narcotics bound for the United States -- Southern California is a top trans-shipment point -- but there have been few outward signs here of cartel operations and attendant bloodshed.

Like Wood, other Monte Verde residents said they know nothing about the case beyond what they had learned in news reports, and very little about the occupants of the spacious home where the Mexicans were taken into custody. Some residents were fearful of being quoted by name.

"It's like a TV show," a neighbor said of the case.

Arrested along with the agents were two U.S. citizens, siblings Hector and Julissa Lopez. Their parents, who live in the 4,800-square-foot house at the end of a long driveway, have not been implicated, authorities say.

Julissa Lopez, 36, is the common-law wife of Cedano, the commander from Mexico's Federal Investigative Agency, that nation's equivalent of the FBI. Also charged is one of Cedano's officers, Victor M. Juarez, 36.

The four have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court on charges of possessing more than $630,000 as part of an alleged drug transaction. If convicted, they face a maximum of four years in prison.

A stakeout team of narcotics investigators stormed the house and spotted the defendants walking out of a bedroom, according to prosecutors. Seized along with the suitcase full of cash were a money-counting machine, other bundles of currency, heat-sealable packets for the bills, and lists of payments and debts for narcotics, authorities say. Defense attorneys have said the lists were innocent jottings of family activities.

No drugs were found, but a police dog trained to sniff out narcotics residue showed a positive response to the suitcase and to other items in the bedroom, investigators say.

A preliminary hearing provided scant insight into the probe, with testimony focusing mainly on details of the surveillance and search of the house.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Oscar Plascencia, who is prosecuting the case, declined to comment, as did officials of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Los Angeles Police Department, which are conducting the investigation. Shortly after the arrests, a DEA spokeswoman said the stakeout team had not expected to encounter Mexican agents at the house, but she did not elaborate.

Mexican authorities did not return phone calls.