The U.S. Defense Department says it is reviewing media reports that a Pentagon official hired private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to track and kill suspected insurgents.
The New York Times reported late Sunday that U.S. military and intelligence officials say contractors were hired from private security companies known to employ former CIA and Special Forces operatives. They are said to have used informants to learn the whereabouts of militant leaders and training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that intelligence was passed on to U.S. commanders for possible lethal action.
The CIA and the military regularly conduct secret intelligence operations, but it is generally considered illegal for the military to use private contractors as covert spies.
On Monday, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the report "makes some serious allegations and raises numerous questions that warrant further review by the department."
The spokesman refused to confirm media reports that officials have already launched an investigation into the matter.
The anonymous officials quoted by the newspaper said CIA officials complained last year to senior Pentagon intelligence officials about alleged "serious offenses" committed during the operation, which was led by Michael Furlong, a civilian employee of the Defense Department attached to the U.S. Strategic Command.
The New York Times said the intelligence network Furlong established relied on a network of informants, and that it may have been supported by funds intended for a program to gather information about political, social and tribal issues in Afghanistan.
The published account quotes sources who say the contractor-spy network "seems to have been shut down."
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.