In early 2005, a U.S. Army sergeant running a battlefield intelligence operation near Tal Afar, in northwestern Iraq, was in deep trouble. One of his Kurdish sources had approached him saying he had “a list of Syrian officers who were planning a military coup and were seeking U.S. government assistance.”
Intel like that, he thought, might bring him a slap on the back. But “when I turned over this preliminary data, the shit hit the fan,” recalled the sergeant, Robert Thomas, in a phone interview Monday. Suddenly the “super spooks”—he wasn’t even sure which agency they were from—were on his doorstep, accusing him of “running illegal intel op.” He saw himself losing the job he was good at—or worse.