Category Archive 'Duane R. Clarridge'

23 Jan 2011

Letters of Marque

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Lynx, a 2001-built replica of a sharp-built Maryland schooner commissioned for service against Britain in the War of 1812

As the official American covert intelligence grows larger, more politicized and sclerotic, and increasingly circumscribed in its operations by congressional oversight and media hostility, there is increasing evidence the US government is covertly delegating some hazardous and controversial operations to private contractors, and that these private companies are becoming a modern intelligence equivalent of the naval privateers of yore, similarly supplying smaller, faster, and more manueverable vessels capable of meeting operational needs the official service finds it inconvenient to address.

In the Washington Post, Jeff Stein recently identified one of these.

Mullah Omar, the elusive, one-eyed leader of the Afghan Taliban, had a heart attack Jan. 7 and was treated for several days in a Karachi hospital with the help of Pakistan’s spy agency, according to a private intelligence network run by former CIA, State Department and military officers.

The intelligence network, operating under the auspices of a private company, “The Eclipse Group,” said its source was a physician in the Karachi hospital, which was not identified in the report, who said he saw Omar struggling to recover from an operation to put a stent in his heart. …

The Eclipse Group is run by Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, a former head of the CIA’s Latin American operations who was the first chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center; Kim Stevens, a retired U.S. diplomat who served in Bolivia and Italy; and Brad A. Patty, a civilian advisor to the U.S. Army’s 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team in Iraq from 2007 to 2009.

The Eclipse Group’s reports are available “by invitation only” on its Web site, Stevens said.

By all appearances, the Eclipse network is the just the latest iteration of a shadowy, Pentagon-backed operation that began contracting with former CIA and military operatives to supply intelligence in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009. Amid adverse publicity last year, the Pentagon supposedly cut off its funding.

Stevens declined to discuss The Eclipse Group’s financing, except to say it has “no DoD clients.”

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US Intelligence adversary Mark Mazzetti, at the New York Times, is doing his best to expose and discredit Mr. Clarridge’s operation.

Over the past two years, he has fielded operatives in the mountains of Pakistan and the desert badlands of Afghanistan. Since the United States military cut off his funding in May, he has relied on like-minded private donors to pay his agents to continue gathering information about militant fighters, Taliban leaders and the secrets of Kabul’s ruling class. …

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. …

On May 15, according to a classified Pentagon report on the private spying operation, he sent an encrypted e-mail to military officers in Kabul announcing that his network was being shut down because the Pentagon had just terminated his contract. He wrote that he had to “prepare approximately 200 local personnel to cease work.”

In fact, he had no intention of shuttering his operation. The very next day, he set up a password-protected Web site, afpakfp.com {Does not seem to be accessible to outsiders –JDZ], that would allow officers to continue viewing his dispatches. …

It is difficult to assess the merits of Mr. Clarridge’s secret intelligence dispatches; a review of some of the documents by The Times shows that some appear to be based on rumors from talk at village bazaars or rehashes of press reports.

Others, though, contain specific details about militant plans to attack American troops, and about Taliban leadership meetings in Pakistan. Mr. Clarridge gave the military an in-depth report about a militant group, the Haqqani Network, in August 2009, a document that officials said helped the military track Haqqani fighters. According to the Pentagon report, Mr. Clarridge told Marine commanders in Afghanistan in June 2010 that his group produced 500 intelligence dispatches before its contract was terminated.

When the military would not listen to him, Mr. Clarridge found other ways to peddle his information.

For instance, his private spies in April and May were reporting that Mullah Muhammad Omar, the reclusive cleric who leads the Afghan Taliban, had been captured by Pakistani officials and placed under house arrest. Associates said Mr. Clarridge believed that Pakistan’s spy service was playing a game: keeping Mullah Omar confined but continuing to support the Afghan Taliban.

Both military and intelligence officials said the information could not be corroborated, but Mr. Clarridge used back channels to pass it on to senior Obama administration officials, including Dennis C. Blair, then the director of national intelligence.

And associates said that 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.

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Our friend Mark Mazzetti is also gravely concerned the Blackwater‘s founder, Eric Prince, now a resident of Abu Dhabi, may be involved with anti-piracy activities not specifically authorized by the residents of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Erik Prince, the founder of the international security giant Blackwater Worldwide, is backing an effort by a controversial South African mercenary firm to insert itself into Somalia’s bloody civil war by protecting government leaders, training Somali troops, and battling pirates and Islamic militants there, according to American and Western officials. …

With its barely functional government and a fierce hostility to foreign armies since the hasty American withdrawal from Mogadishu in the early 1990s, Somalia is a country where Western militaries have long feared to tread. The Somali government has been cornered in a small patch of Mogadishu by the Shabab, a Somali militant group with ties to Al Qaeda.

This, along with the growing menace of piracy off Somalia’s shores, has created an opportunity for private security companies like the South African firm Saracen International to fill the security vacuum created by years of civil war. It is another illustration of how private security firms are playing a bigger role in wars around the world, with some governments seeing them as a way to supplement overtaxed armies, while others complain that they are unaccountable.

Mr. Prince’s precise role remains unclear. Some Western officials said that it was possible Mr. Prince was using his international contacts to help broker a deal between Saracen executives and officials from the United Arab Emirates, which have been financing Saracen in Somalia because Emirates business operations have been threatened by Somali pirates. ..

Somali officials have said that Saracen’s operations — which would also include training an antipiracy army in the semiautonomous region of Puntland — are being financed by an anonymous Middle Eastern country.

Several people with knowledge of Saracen’s operations confirmed that that was the United Arab Emirates.

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The rest of us can only nod with approval, and raise a glass to Dewey Clarridge and the Eclipse Group, Eric Prince and Saracen, comment quietly, “Well done,” and drink to them.


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