The Department of Defense has launched an investigation into whether a $24 million contract to gather information about developments in towns and villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan may have been inappropriately used instead to run an ad hoc spy ring, according to U.S. military officials.
Concern within the Central Intelligence Agency about the contract prompted the investigation, officials said. An investigation by the Defense Department's inspector general is under way, according to a U.S. defense official. It's not clear whether that is the only investigation.
The contract was meant to be limited to gathering what is known as "open-source information," in which material is gathered in an unclassified manner from, for example, local media and public events.
The contractors may have instead hired local agents to gather information on the specific locations and movements of particular individuals and passed it along to military officials for possible lethal strikes, according to government officials and private-sector businessmen familiar with the investigation.
Military officials say the concern is that contract money used for open-source information cannot be used to target individuals. But a source close to the man overseeing the program says there is an exception if there is a demonstrated threat to U.S. forces and "force protection can be invoked as a reason."