What Was The Informant Program That Killed Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar?

(TFC)— As 2017 ended, news outlets briefly covered the death of Green Beret Staff Sergeant Logan Melgar. According to NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service), Melgar was strangled after discovering at least two SEAL Team 6 operatives stole money fueling an informant program. Coverage then vanished before anyone examined the silent mammoth in the story. What was the informant program that got Staff Sergeant Melgar killed?

Short of talking to an operative that was there, those are tough questions to answer. The Fifth Column News attempted to put some bits together with their own piece on Melgar’s murder. Published before it was known he’d discovered illegal activity, it examined why the Beret might’ve been killed.

For that story, TFC contacted an ex-military contractor with experience in special operations who outlined how things could get questionable in Mali. “I will say SEAL’s tend to be dirty, Green Berets tend to be cleaner”, the source said. “Mali is a place where people can get into a lot of trouble. It’s completely possible the [Green Beret] stumbled onto something the SEAL’s didn’t want him to see. Dirty could mean anything in Mali. Sex trafficking, drugs, weapons, minerals. The difference is the mission. SEAL’s kill. Green Berets train indigenous troops.” A different TFC piece examined a long list of strange military deaths, including Melgar’s, all leading to no real punishment.

Sometimes, all that becomes indistinguishable from the on-the-books mission. Objectives which, for the most part, aren’t acknowledged publicly. Perhaps, somewhere in the middle of everything happening in Mali, is the informant program Staff Sgt. Melgar and the SEALs were working. While not much is known about that program specifically, documents on counterparts internationally might offer insights.

Some of these were gathered by TFC from the Wikileaks archives. One example, a 248-page US Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare Field Manual, mentions the use of informants several times. A good portion outlines SF (Special Forces) operations and phases of deployment, often with an infiltration and intelligence-gathering emphasis.

“Not all SF employment of irregular elements necessarily involves direct combat”, pg. 72 of the document reads. “SF soldiers are adept at leveraging active intelligence collection with an indigenous informant network.” These kinds of informant operations “can support” SF’s overall endeavors, it notes. Similar operations have seen routine use in Afghanistan by narcotics agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).Staff Sergeant Melgar, prior to the Mali mission, had experience in intel and train-equip op’s.

Hidden among Wikileaks’ vast archives are several declassified communications involving the use of informants in Afghanistan. The late 1970’s era programs targeted opium and heroin trading, and mentions at length paying informants for their efforts.

One such cable proposed expanding an Afghan narcotics office, and its informant program. This one office channeled massive funds, under the jurisdiction of the UN (United Nations) and DEA, with just three staff before expansions. Another cable dated around the same time states informants were paid immediately after being de-briefed. One unidentified informant was then told “he would be paid in the future according to the worth of his info”. Yet another similar document states the DEA owed about $25,000 in informant rewards spent over a short portion of 1978.

The US government admitted in the cable that it must “realistically assume” some funds “might not find its way to deserving informants”. In environments like Afghanistan, or Mali, money could end up anywhere. Even disappear.

Across the ocean in Indonesia, US entities boosted informant payments, using local authorities as a front, to attract more public participation. It’s a pattern reminiscent of a scene from episode 3 of the Marvel Netflix series The Punisher. A fictional former NSA analyst David Lieberman detailed, while himself under enhanced interrogation,“basically what we do is we pay anyone we can to tell tales”. Although a fictional example, it offers perspective into programs TFC pulled from Wikileaks. Casting wide nets in third world countries, using thousands of US dollars to lure possible paid informants, is the model. Or one of them at least.

Wikileaks cables from 2009 mention the complicated political and military atmosphere surrounding Mali. At that time, Mali’s government welcomed train-equip programs, but not foreign boots-on-the-ground. AFRICOM also sought to avoid giving the impression it intended “to install itself physically on the continent—specifically with a compliant Mali—a misconception the Command has worked had to dispel”.

US clandestine operations have steadily increased throughout Africa over the last decade. President Barack Obama further augmented AFRICOM through covert action and training local forces.

The War On Terror makes world a battlefield, including African nations with loosely affiliated Islamic insurgencies. A $100 million drone base was covered by The Intercept in 2016, operating in Niger. The country more recently made news after another Green Beret was killed in a murky firefight. That incident is still under investigation and bought American operations in Niger to the mainstream.

AFRICOM’s expansion, The Intercept also reported, essentially includes whatever militant group threatens US regional interests. That included the Lords Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel movement based in Christianity, not Islam.

Under President Obama, one of the LRA’s leaders, Joseph Kony, became a household name overnight. The Kony 2012 campaign raged through high schools and colleges before imploding. Many questioned why such a massive effort was made for just one of dozens of African death squads. Kony 2012, however, offered a unique opportunity to gain widespread support for still maturing AFRICOM operations. Targeting such groups, regardless of affiliations or motives, also actively protects interests in natural resources.

The war against the Islamic State allows the US a more consistent proxy to enter a country. When Mali’s Boko Haram joined, US operations seeped out that opaque backdrop. One of an indigenous army facing fierce rebel ambushes alongside French spec ops trainers.

Image Source: The U.S. Army, Flickr, Creative Commons
 photo by Spc. David J. Marshall

As the war intensified, so too did the tactics used by Mali’s security forces who’d received foreign training. Consistent reports of abuses ranging from waterboarding to temperature torture leaked from ravaged villages. These eerily mirrored even lesser-known aspects of US interrogation under the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Despite that similarity, witnesses of Malian government war crimes scarcely reported western troops nearby.

Staff Sergeant Melgar’s murder, and the informant program which contributed to his death was one stone in a long path. It twists and winds through the reported fallout of America’s dirty wars in Africa, and elsewhere. Where it all leads, however, has yet to be seen.