WASHINGTON — During some of the bloodiest days of US combat in Afghanistan and the roadside bomb threat there, the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) "improperly collected" intelligence on US citizens and corporations to try to stem the threat, a Pentagon Inspector General (IG) report has found.
The collection activities, which were conducted by JIEDDO's Counter-IED Operations Intelligence Integration Center (COIC), took place "at the direction" of the organization's leadership the report states, adding that "analysts collected information on US companies and their CEOs, US hostages held by foreign extremists, and specific US persons. In addition, COIC analysts improperly collected intelligence using aliases and uncoordinated cover."
The US hostage was US soldier Bowe Berghdal, who was at the time being held by Taliban fighters in Pakistan, one person familiar with the issue told Defense News.
The report, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Defense News and other news organizations, has been redacted to omit the names of the US companies and names of people who were subject to the collection.
One company name that was not redacted, however, is the Fatima Fertilizer company, a Pakistan-based entity with ties to various US suppliers. JIEDDO analysts looked into the business dealings and stock trading activities of the company and US companies that had dealings with it, looking for links to terrorist activity.
For years, US and NATO military leaders had been frustrated by the inability to stem the amount of fertilizer-based roadside bombs in Afghanistan, which had taken a bloody toll in coalition lives.
JIEDDO leaders had gone so far as to attend fertilizer industry events and convened a series of meetings with executives in the Pakistani fertilizer industry to try to get a hold of the issue, to frustratingly little effect.
During the height of the war in 2010 and 2011, a full 80 percent of the IEDs planted in Afghanistan and 90 percent of US casualties could be traced to IED bomb-making chemicals that come from two legal fertilizer factories operating in Pakistan.
Those factories churn out about 400,000 metric tons of ammonium nitrate — a common farming fertilizer — a year, about 1 percent of which would eventually make its way over the border to insurgents who use it to build explosive devices.
While the information that JIEDDO collected came from open sources, including newspapers, websites and other publicly accessible material, the actions still ran afoul of DoD intelligence collection rules, the IG report said.
In August 2012, JIEDDO analysts contacted the CIA to obtain "any links between the Fatima Group and US companies and any observable terrorist activity," only to be rejected by the spy agency.
JIEDDO wanted all of the financial information it could obtain about Fatima to give the agency "potential direct/indirect actions that could be leveraged though JIEDDO's Whole-of-Government partners and [government] allies," according to the IG report.
Staffers at JIEDDO learned that Fatima was interested in expanding operations in the United States, and according to internal documents published by the IG, "applying pressure to these [American] partner companies is a possible course of action. By approaching these partner companies – and their shareholders – and making them aware that they are associated with a company whose product is being misappropriated causing 10,840 casualties in 2011 alone, Fatima may be encouraged to become more cooperative."
While JIEDDO struggled to make inroads with Fatima, a relationship was eventually forged and the company has since stopped the distribution of ammonium nitrate on the Pakistan/Afghan border, and has created a less explosive fertilizer, according to one person familiar with the interactions. As a result, ammonium nitrate IEDs have fallen markedly, a source said.
The COIC also collected information on a Marine Corps Reserve lance corporal who was arrested near the Pentagon in June 2011 with suspected bomb making materials, a domestic collection that violated a DoD regulation that prohibits the collection of intelligence on US citizens, but was done in conjunction with other US agencies.
When asked about the report, JIEDDO spokesman David Small said that since the report was issued, the organization has increased its focus "on intel oversight, including ongoing training for the entire workforce. We have published a new standard operating procedure, appointed an inspector general and have conducted a number of spot checks of our IO program."
He reiterated that no laws were broken, and that 'the incidents involved regarded technicalities of policy and process and were corrected as soon as it was recognized. Many of the IG's recommendations to assure such actions do not occur in the future have already been acted upon."