Setting the record straight on Robert Young Pelton | World | Breaking news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 26.05.2010

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Setting the record straight on Robert Young Pelton

In an article published March 29 on private contractors in Afghanistan, DW suggested the journalist Robert Young Pelton worked as a contractor. This is not true. The following is intended to set the record straight.

Robert Young Pelton surrounded by Hazara guard fighters, who tried to put down a revolt in Qali Jangi, Afghanistan in Nov. 2001

Robert Young Pelton with Hazara fighters in Afghanistan, Nov. 2001

In an article published March 29 entitled "Private spooks and guns for hire: The murky contractor's world in Afghanistan" Deutsche Welle erroneously suggested that the journalist Robert Young Pelton is a contractor of the US government involved in intelligence gathering for the Department of Defense. This information was based on an article published in the "New York Times", which has subsequently been corrected. Mr. Pelton is an author, filmmaker and journalist with extensive experience in combat zones; he does not work as a contractor for the US government.

The Deutsche Welle article quoted an anonymous source who described the experienced war correspondent and book author as a "fantasist and fabricator," who neither wrote nor filmed his own combat coverage. Since the article was published at the end of March, Deutsche Welle has distanced itself from the statements of this source. Upon further investigation, these statements have turned out to be unfounded and libelous. It was never the intent of Deutsche Welle to offend Mr. Pelton, nor malign his journalistic reputation.

Mr. Pelton has worked as an investigative journalist and documentary film producer for several US television stations including CNN, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel. He has never worked solely as a cameraman or a photographer, but his film footage, interviews and photographs from over 120 countries and some 36 conflicts have been used as sources for well-known documentary film makers. In his own words, Mr. Pelton has said the entire concept that he had been hired as a contractor was made "even more harmful" considering his "years investigating and writing about the use and abuse of security contractors, mercenaries and spies."

Deutsche Welle interviewed Mr. Pelton in order to set the record straight concerning previous allegations of his involvement in intelligence gathering.

Deutsche Welle: Could you describe the nature of your work in Afghanistan?

Pelton: We developed with our own money a paid subscription information service in Afghanistan on events and activities there and in Pakistan. Among our largest subscribers were the US State Department, the DoD (Department of Defense), news networks, aid organizations, the UN. At no time did we offer this subscription as an exclusive or contracted vehicle; it was simply a privately funded subscription service. The bottom line is there was no contract, and there was no discussion of being contractors. We were never contractors.

How is it that allegations were made that you were providing intelligence for the US government?

Pelton with Blackwater security team in Baghdad, Iraq, 2004

Pelton lived for a month in Baghdad with a Blackwater security while writing "Licensed to Kill, Hired Guns in The War on Terror"

First of all, it's illegal for contractors to gather intelligence; second of all we had no interest in being spies. I write books, I do films, documentaries. I'm not beholden to anyone, and any information would have been useless to the government. We were not engaged at any point in gathering intelligence. When I provide information, those are things gathered openly with the permission or understanding of the person being interviewed.

For example, we provided a number of very in-depth interviews with the leaders of the Taliban. I wouldn't call that spying, since we're videotaping him and asking questions. There was no covert activity. There was no need to sneak around.

But my concern was that the US government … created a covert activity to gather intelligence which had nothing to do with us. But they were trying to hide it within the money that was allocated for our subscription.

So we did not spy. We're not spies and we didn't provide intelligence. But we were really upset when we found out that the money was being diverted to an intelligence-gathering operation, which had nothing to do with us.

And is that when you terminated that kind of work?

Yes, we made it clear to everyone concerned that we were no longer interested in providing a subscription or doing any work for the DoD if they were going to misuse our funds and deliberately mislead some people into thinking that somehow we were related with that covert activity.

Robert Young Pelton has more than 20 years experience as a journalist on the frontline in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and the Caucasus. He was written several books about his years of reporting from war zones. His 2006 book "Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror" focuses on the use of the DoD and CIA contractors in the war on terror. He has also authored a series of books called "The World's Most Dangerous Places" about the nature of reporting from combat zones, safety and on the ground infomation gathering.

Interview: Robert Mudge
Editor: Kristin Zeier