World News

Pentagon calls spy critique "irregular"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon expressed surprise on Tuesday at the irregular way in which the U.S. military’s intelligence chief in Afghanistan aired his criticism of spy agencies -- publishing a withering report with a private think tank.

Afghan women walk past a U.S. military vehicle of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), in Siavashan village near Herat December 14, 2009. EUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Major General Michael Flynn, deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan for the U.S. military and its NATO allies, said spies were overly focused on killing insurgents and out of touch with the Afghan people.

The sweeping critique was released on Monday by the Washington D.C.-based think thank, Center for New American Security. [ID:nN04252368] A copy was delivered the same day to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Pentagon said.

“I think it struck everybody as a little bit curious, yes ... My sense is that this was an anomaly and that we probably won’t see that (in the future),” said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

“It was an unusual and irregular way to publish a document of this nature.”

Other defense officials at the Pentagon privately expressed surprise at how the report was released.

The think tank was co-founded by Michele Flournoy, who in February was appointed undersecretary of defense for policy.

Flynn said U.S. intelligence officials in Afghanistan were “ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced ... and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers.”

An operations officer was quoted in the report as calling the United States “clueless” because of a lack of needed intelligence about the country.

Whitman did not question the substance of the report but cautioned that officials were still reviewing it.

“I think it’s a candid assessment of some of the shortcomings there (in intelligence) and the challenges that face us,” he said.

He did not rule out the possibility that commanders outside of Washington were aware of the report’s release ahead of time.

The report, which highlighted tensions between military and intelligence agencies, urged changes such as a focus on gathering more information on a wider range of issues at a grassroots level.

“Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy,” Flynn wrote in the report.

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Adam Entous, editing by Philip Barbara