Tyler Comrie for BuzzFeed News
WASHINGTON — The White House and CIA have been considering a package of secret proposals to allow former US intelligence officers to run privatized covert actions, intelligence gathering, and propaganda missions, according to three sources who’ve been briefed on or have direct knowledge of the proposals.
One of the proposals would involve hiring a private company, Amyntor Group, for millions of dollars to set up a large intelligence network and run counterterrorist propaganda efforts, according to the sources. Amyntor’s officials and employees include veterans of a variety of US covert operations, ranging from the Reagan-era Iran–Contra affair to more recent actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Amyntor declined to discuss the proposals, but a lawyer for the company said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that the type of contract being contemplated would be legal “with direction and control by the proper government authority.”
Another proposal presented to US officials would allow individuals affiliated with the company to help capture wanted terrorists on behalf of the United States. In keeping with that proposal, people close to the company are tracking two specific suspects in a Middle Eastern country, the sources said, for possible “rendition” to the United States.
A source speaking on behalf of the company stressed that while Amyntor officials are aware of and involved in the rendition plan, the company itself would not be involved.
People involved in the highly unusual project have asked BuzzFeed News not to name the country or the targets because of concerns about the safety of operatives who, they say, are on the ground. They say that the people involved have the information and capabilities to snatch the two suspects and transport them to the US or a third country.
The proposals sound like a convoluted movie plot, but two of the sources familiar with the project say discussions have been held recently with top national security officials.
The CIA declined to comment, but a US government official downplayed the proposals' significance. “The idea they are pitching is absurd on its face,” he said, “and it is not going anywhere.”
A spokesperson for the National Security Council said that Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security adviser, and other officials were not aware of the proposals.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo has publicly promised that the agency would become “much more vicious” and aggressive. He said in one speech that the administration “is prepared to engage in activities that are different from what America has been doing these past few years.”
Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo.
Alex Wong / Getty Images
Those familiar with the proposals say one of the driving impulses for privatizing some missions is a fear by some supporters of President Donald Trump, outside government, that the CIA bureaucracy has an anti-Trump bias that would thwart efforts to fulfill the president’s objectives. “The system does not work,” one source who is sympathetic to the Amyntor efforts told BuzzFeed News. “The people leaking this to you just want to destroy the president.”
Amyntor declined to discuss specifics, but a lawyer for the company, Raymond R. Granger, provided a statement:
As a matter of company policy, Amyntor does not comment regarding whether or not it has attempted or is attempting to secure a contract with any government agency. The type of contract about which BuzzFeed is writing, however, would be entirely appropriate with direction and control by the proper governmental authority. What would be inappropriate, and potentially illegal, would be for any individual purporting to have direct knowledge of what would be a classified contract proposal to disclose that information publicly.
Amyntor Group is a reclusive company headquartered in Whitefish, Montana, a town of 6,500 residents that recently gained notoriety after a company based there won, then lost, a $300 million contract to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid. There is no known relationship between the two companies.
Amyntor’s website describes its mission as “providing extraordinary security solutions.” It claims to “maintain an experienced cadre of cleared professionals that possess Subject Matter Expertise (SME) in the areas of intelligence training, collections and analysis, risk assessment, and counterintelligence to support U.S. and friendly foreign government activities around the globe.”
Among the management of Amyntor is John Maguire, a former CIA case officer who reportedly led a US effort to provoke Saddam Hussein into war before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The late Duane "Dewey" Clarridge, a former top covert CIA official, once set up a private intelligence network.
Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images
Sources say Maguire and others who run Amyntor previously worked with the late Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, a CIA officer known for his colorful personality. Indicted and then pardoned for his role in the so-called Iran–Contra affair during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, Clarridge also tried in 2008, while in his seventies, to set up his own private intelligence agency to collect information about terrorists in Afghanistan. Clarridge ran the business under the name “The Eclipse Group.” Reportedly, his operation was, for a time, funded by the Department of Defense. Clarridge died in 2016.
Among Amyntor’s unusual cast of characters is a cosmetic surgeon, Keith Rose, who lists himself on his Linkedin page as the “medical director” of Amyntor. He was involved in Clarridge’s Eclipse Group, according to two people who are familiar with both Clarridge and Rose.
Rose did not return a phone message to his medical clinic in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The pitch to the Trump administration began in the summer, according to the former intelligence official familiar with it. It involved at least three components: collecting intelligence on terrorists using “a network of assets in a denied area” (meaning spies in hostile countries), an online propaganda operation to counter Islamic extremism, and the rendition plan.
One source saw the plan presented in a PowerPoint. He says it appeared that the pitches coincided with a widely publicized effort by Erik Prince — the private security official, founder of Blackwater, and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — to privatize the war in Afghanistan.
But the source speaking on behalf of the company says that while Prince is close to some Amyntor officials, he has nothing to do with the rendition plan or the other proposals.
As BuzzFeed News reported earlier in November, a CIA official assigned to the NSC once worked on an assassination plan at a time when the agency had contracted it to Prince.
Privatizing intelligence operations and covert actions is highly controversial. Asked about Amyntor’s proposal and the rendition plan, one former senior intelligence official said, “All the institutional structures exist to prevent things from going off the rails. Is this an attempt to circumvent oversight?” ●