The Pentagon and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have taken steps to reduce the shortage of U.S.-based intelligence agencies by approving a new one: the Defense Clandestine Service.
At least 15 percent of the field staff and part of the budget of the new agency be transplanted from the 16,500-employee Defense Intelligence Agency, whose mission has been to collect the kind of tactical intelligence that can be used by troops on the battlefield rather than commanders-in-chief in the Situation Room.
The Defense Clandestine Service (DCS) will start with "several hundred" employees and grow to "several more hundred" according to an incredibly detailed summary of the plans an unnamed Defense Department official offered the New York Times.
The DIA will continue in place, doing the same job it always has. The DCS will simply be an additional conduit for existing intelligence and focused gathering of new information to satisfy the specific needs of the Pentagon on global issues such as Iran's nuclear ambitions, the international arms market and stateless terror organizations such as al Queda, according to a story this morning from UPI.
Why another intelligence agency?
A still-classified study conducted last year concluded that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is doing its job well, but isn't designed to give top U.S. military officers the kind of information they need about global terrorism and political issues that affect U.S. military policy, according to the New York Times.
National Intelligence Director James Clapper, whose office conducted the study, was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 1992 to 1995.
DCS, which will include both military and civilian employees, will work closely with the CIA to gather that intelligence; in the field, DCS agents will report directly to the senior intelligence officer in the area, usually the local CIA chief of station, rather than to the Pentagon.
DIA officers already work from CIA facilities in the fields and work with the CIA on issues such as terrorism and the weapons trade.
The new DCS will work closely with both the CIA and DIA, but won't intrude on the "signals intelligence" (digital eavesdropping) responsibilities of the National Security Agency or other organizations involved in cybersecurity missions, according to U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, as quoted in the Baltimore Sun.
Despite the similarity in names with the CIA's National Clandestine Service, the DCS is designed to integrate and cooperate with the CIA to improve the Pentagon's ability to gather and use intelligence, not an effort to supplant the CIA, according to a Washington Post story quoting the same unnamed defense official who spoke (at a press conference) to the NYT.
"This 'does not involve new manpower . . . does not involve new authorities,' the official said. Instead, the official said, the DIA is shifting its emphasis 'as we look to come out of war zones and anticipate the requirements over the next several years.'" – Washington Post, April 24, 2012.
DCS – the Pentagon's remedial intelligence service
The main purpose of the new agency appears to be remedial. It exists to fix the Pentagon's inability to get answers from other intelligence agencies to specific questions its own drones, spies and other sources can't provide.
According to the Washington Post:"Creation of the new service … coincides with the appointment of a number of senior officials at the Pentagon who have extensive backgrounds in intelligence and firm opinions on where the military’s spying programs — often seen as lackluster by CIA insiders — have gone wrong."
The first benefit of the new organization will be to allow the Pentagon to send operatives to the right locations to gather the kind of national intelligence they want without worrying about stepping on the responsibilities of either the DIA or other agencies, mainly the CIA.
That information currently has to come from other agencies, including the CIA, NSA and others that don't answer directly to the Pentagon.
The problem is that the Pentagon has no excuse for not being able to get the answers it needs.
Though Pentagon officials imply other agencies don't supply quite the right information to answer critical questions, other intelligence agencies call the Pentagon's own intelligence-gathering efforts inefficien, insular and self-defeating.
Since 9/11 the Pentagon has expanded its fleet of intelligence-gathering drones from 200 to 6,000, each of which collect so much data to be analyzed and require so much maintenance and support that each mission requires almost 300 operators and analysts to complete, according to a January NPR story.
The Pentagon's existing intelligence operations include more than 100,000 people, all oof whom report to different bosses and operate under different budgets than the CIA or other civilian intelligence agencies.
The Pentagon doesn't share much of the data it uncovers and rarely fills in other agencies on its operations or findings.
It also works so closely with the militaries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries that civilian intelligence agencies have to spend extra time scrubbing metadata from the intelligence they do send the Pentagon, according to NPR.. It wouldn't do to have U.S. generals accidentally expose top-secret CIA sources while sharing a report on Taliban activity with local Afghan army commanders, for example.
"You talk to officials who used to work or work today at the [Office of the Director of National Intelligence], and there's just frustration," according to historian Matthew M. Aid, whose book Intel Wars focuses on the conflicts, inefficiency and unrestrained growth of U.S. intelligence operations during the past 12 years.
'[In the book] I quoted one official as saying, 'It would be nice if the boys over at the Pentagon let us know what they were up to,' which I think gives a hint that says things could be more tightly controlled than they are right now," Aid said.
So, if the main problem is the amount or specificity of the information the Pentagon gets from the CIA, and the Defense Intelligence Agency already works closely with the CIA in the field, wouldn't it just be easier to have the Pentagon and CIA coordinate their efforts more closely rather than create a whole new agency?
Not among the rapidly proliferating political fiefdoms of the federal intelligence community.
In the years since the attacks the number of U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies has swelled to more than 1,200, with 1,900 privately owned organizations pitching in, according to a two-year investigation by the Post that was published in 2010.
"There has been so much growth since 9/11 that getting your arms around that — not just for the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], but for any individual, for the director of the CIA, for the secretary of defense - is a challenge," according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as quoted in the Post investigation.
U.S. intelligence agencies multiply like rabbits rather than calculate like foxes
"Nine years after 9/11, it makes sense to sort of take a look at this and say, 'OK, we've built tremendous capability, but do we have more than we need?'" Gates asked.
Not only are there more intelligence agencies in the U.S. than ever, there is no single agency or authority responsible for coordinating their efforts, avoiding duplication of effort or providing oversight to prevent abuses of human or civil rights in pursuit of intelligence.
"The complexity of this system defies description," retired Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines told the Post.
According to that view, it might make sense for the Pentagon to create yet another agency – if only to sift the answers it needs from the undefined, possibly duplicated, possibly wasted effort of the other 1,199 agencies.
That marks the new DCS not as a valid agency in its own right, but as a wastefully expensive emergency measure to dig specific answers out of a convoluted, redundant collection of uncooperative intelligence agencies.
Creating it may get the Pentagon answers it needs to make timely decisions on cybersecurity, weapons development, deployment of troops, ships and drones.
It also signals that the Pentagon – and probably the rest of the U.S. government – has given up on ever reining in an intelligence community more intent on proliferation than on gathering intelligence, let alone sharing what they've learned with the military that is responsible for acting on that information.
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