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The Private CIA That’s Been Driving Af/Pak Agenda

Posted by on January 23rd, 2011

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Today, the NYT's Mark Mazzetti decided to burn what appears to have been one of the newspapers – and the U.S. government's – prime sources on all things lurid in Af/Pak. Ex- Iran/Contra liar Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, a former head of the CIA’s Latin American operations who was the first chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, has been running the shadowy Eclipse Group since 2009. During that time he's fed stories to the media and the government which have heaviliy influenced policymakers.

Hatching schemes that are something of a cross between a Graham Greene novel and Mad Magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy,” Mr. Clarridge has sought to discredit Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Kandahar power broker who has long been on the C.I.A. payroll, and planned to set spies on his half brother, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, in hopes of collecting beard trimmings or other DNA samples that might prove Mr. Clarridge’s suspicions that the Afghan leader was a heroin addict, associates say.

Mr. Clarridge, 78, who was indicted on charges of lying to Congress in the Iran-contra scandal and later pardoned, is described by those who have worked with him as driven by the conviction that Washington is bloated with bureaucrats and lawyers who impede American troops in fighting adversaries and that leaders are overly reliant on mercurial allies.

His dispatches — an amalgam of fact, rumor, analysis and uncorroborated reports — have been sent to military officials who, until last spring at least, found some credible enough to be used in planning strikes against militants in Afghanistan. They are also fed to conservative commentators, including Oliver L. North, a compatriot from the Iran-contra days and now a Fox News analyst, and Brad Thor, an author of military thrillers and a frequent guest of Glenn Beck.

For all of the can-you-top-this qualities to Mr. Clarridge’s operation, it is a startling demonstration of how private citizens can exploit the chaos of combat zones and rivalries inside the American government to carry out their own agenda.

It also shows how the outsourcing of military and intelligence operations has spawned legally murky clandestine operations that can be at cross-purposes with America’s foreign policy goals. Despite Mr. Clarridge’s keen interest in undermining Afghanistan’s ruling family, President Obama’s administration appears resigned to working with President Karzai and his half brother, who is widely suspected of having ties to drug traffickers.

Wikileaks documents confirm that the U.S. military, in particular, and intelligence community have spent an inodinate amount of time, energy and money following up Clarridge's rumors, to no avail. To date, no-one has proof that Karzai is a junkie or that his brother is a dug dealer, despite the latter charge in particular entering the "conventional wisdom" on Afghanistan. Given Mazzetti's piece, it seems the conventional wisdom will have to be revisited.

In Pakistan, too, Clarridge has alleged major stories, such as that Mullah Omar had been arrested by Pakistan's ISI in April or, more recently, that the Taliban leader had emergency heart surgery in an ISI-supported facility under the Pakistan intelligence agency's protection. "Mr. Clarridge, determined to make the information public, arranged for it to get to Mr. Thor, a square-jawed writer of thrillers, a blogger and a regular guest on Mr. Beck’s program on Fox News." Clarridge also funneled videos to Ollie North at Fox.

Over at FDL, emptywheel writes:

All that said, Mazzetti doesn’t yet answer what I consider to be the biggest part of this story: Clarridge’s funders.

Several times, Mazzetti explains that after DOD cut Clarridge off last year, he has been funded by unknown private donors.

Who are the donors that would support efforts to get select information and disinformation into the hands of Ollie North, Glenn Beck, and a bunch of other paid propagandists? It’s the old Iran-Contra gang back together again, now magnified with the help of Fox News. So who’s paying for this latest incarnation of Iran-Contra?

The Pentagon was meant to have stopped paying Clarridge's group back in May after the Pentagon official who arranged the contract, Michael D. Furlong, was put "under investigation for allegations of violating Defense Department rules in awarding that contract". Furlong's operation "set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants" according to the NYT's report in March. Clarridge now claims to have a group of 50 or so clients, including some European intelligence agencies.

It's in all our interests to know who they all are, which are corporate players, which are media outlets, and which intelligence agencies may be repeating Clarridge's agenda-driven rumors into the world's press. Maybe Wikileaks, which so far has only released one percent of the diplomatic cables dump it began in November last year, will have more on this subject for us as time goes on. But Clarridge's ultimate backers, given his choice of friends when he really wants information to be released, are likely to turn out to be the same couterie of neocon warmongers he associated with back in his Iran/Contra days.

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