US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has opened an investigation into whether a top Defence Department official violated Pentagon rules by setting up a network of private contractors to gather intelligence in Pakistan and Afghanistan, The New York Times reported Tuesday. CIting a Pentagon spokesman, the newspaper said that Gates was also demanding greater oversight over the millions of dollars the Defence Department spent annually to carry out information operations, to ensure that such missions did not stray off course into secret intelligence collection. At the center of the Pentagon inquiry is Michael Furlong, a civilian official working for the Air Force who last year used a web of private contractors to clandestinely gather intelligence in Pakistan and Afghanistan, The Times said in a dispatch from Washington. Citing current and former government officials, it said some of that information was turned over to Special Operations troops to help fight militants. Some American officials think that Furlong may have financed the secret network by improperly diverting money from an overt programme to gather information about the tribal structures and political dynamics in Afghanistan, according to the paper. The Pentagons inspector general is already conducting a criminal investigation into the matter, i said. One focus of that investigation is whether Furlong engaged in contract fraud by channeling contracts to International Media Ventures, a media technology firm that American officials say Furlong used in the intelligence-gathering effort. But even if no laws were broken, officials said, the inquiry announced on Tuesday will more clearly define the Pentagons boundaries in intelligence operations, and determine whether Furlongs outsourcing of intelligence collection violated Pentagon rules. The inquiry will be led by Gatess senior aide in charge of intelligence oversight.