Congress Smashes Pentagon’s New Den of Spies
By Noah Shachtman
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn assumed command of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012. Photo: DoD
If the Pentagon’s not careful, it’s going to find its new network of spies rolled up by Congress.
The Defense Clandestine Service was supposed to be the Defense Department’s new squad for conducting “human intelligence” — classic, informant-based spying. The idea was to place up to 1,600 undercover operatives and military attachés around the world, collecting tips on emergent battlefields. The problem was that the U.S. already had a human intelligence crew: the CIA.
Almost immediately after the Defense Clandestine Service was introduced, an array of outside observers began to loudly question its value.
Add the House Armed Services Committee’s intelligence panel to that list of skeptics. In its revision of next year’s Pentagon budget (.pdf), released Tuesday, the representatives said they would withhold half of the DCS’
funding until the Pentagon proves that the service “provide[s] unique capabilities to the intelligence community.” It’s the latest haymaker thrown in a decades-long scrum between the Pentagon and Langley (and their backers) for control of America’s spies.
The DCS is part of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is traditionally tasked with figuring out the number and type of hardware America’s military adversaries have. Think Syrian missiles, Russian tanks, or North Korean artillery. But in recent years, the Defense Intelligence Agency has assigned to itself a new role: less analytical, and more operational. While the CIA has turned more and more to hunting terrorists in the hottest warzones, the thinking went, the DCS could develop sources in the places where the next fight might go down: China and Iran, for sure. But also countries like Yemen, where unemployment is high, and so are the number of criminal gangs looking to recruit. “That’s a fundamentally different kind of enemy to understand,” said Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who inherited the DCS program from his predecessor but quickly embraced it in public. “Somebody who feels no hope is different [from] someone who puts on a uniform and decides he’s going to be your enemy… We have to have a different mindset to deal with it. We have to be able to go into these environments … with a much different level of preparation.”
To get the job done, the Defense Intelligence Agency reportedly called in
2012 for an increase its number of “collectors” from about 500 to more than 1600. Proponents billed it as a way for the Defense Intelligence Agency to better integrate with the CIA and the rest of America’s intel services.
The logic would be a little easier to accept, if the Pentagon and the CIA hadn’t merged some of their human intelligence (“HUMINT”) forces just six years earlier. In May of 2006, the Defense HUMINT Service was dissolved,and many of its spies were sent over to the CIA, which combined the new personnel with its old Directorate of Operations to form the new National Clandestine Service. Brig. Gen. Michael E. Ennis, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s HUMINT chief, was named the No. 2 at the service. ”And a senior Marine general always serves as the NCS’ deputy director to ensure that the NCS stays focused on military targets of interest,” notes intelligence historian Matthew Aid.
It’s one of the reasons why Aid says he “still does not understand the need for the Defense Clandestine Service. It duplicates what NCS is supposed to provide.”
Congress is just as confused. Last December, they barred DCS from hiring any new spies. In a brutal report, the Senate Armed Services Committee listed the Pentagon’s long-standing human intelligence issues, including “inefficient utilization of personnel trained at significant expense to conduct clandestine HUMINT; poor or non-existent career management for trained HUMINT personnel; cover challenges; and unproductive deployment locations.”
“Multiple studies since the end of the Cold War document these deficiencies, and they led … to [the] recommend[ation of] transferring to the Central Intelligence Agency all responsibilities for the clandestine recruitment of human sources.”
In Tuesday’s markup of the defense budget bill, the House Armed Services panel wasn’t quite so harsh. But they did withhold half of DCS’ proposed budget for next year. And they required the Pentagon to do more than just promise that things would be better this time. If the subcommittee’s version of the bill becomes law, the Defense Secretary will have to “design metrics that will be used to ensure that the Defense Clandestine Service is employed in the manner certified” and provide every 90 days “briefings on deployments and collection activities.”
Defense News’ John Bennett argues the restrictions are relatively mild, and therefore indicate House Republican support for the DCS. (It’s a counterintuitive suggestion, given that no other program was so restrained by the intelligence panel.)
The chairman of that subcommittee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, tells Breaking Defense that the Pentagon will not add any new people or new money for its new human intelligence mission. But on its website — perhaps as a hedge against attrition — the Defense Intelligence Agency is still openly recruiting for case officers in the Defense Clandestine Service, specifically ones who can speak “Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Farsi, Pashto, Urdu, Dari, Hindi, Turkish, Tajik, Spanish, French, German and Portuguese.” It won’t be easy to do, if DCS’ budget is slashed in half.
(F)AIR USE NOTICE: All original content and/or articles and graphics in this message are copyrighted, unless specifically noted otherwise. All rights to these copyrighted items are reserved. Articles and graphics have been placed within for educational and discussion purposes only, in compliance with "Fair Use" criteria established in Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976.
The principle of "Fair Use" was established as law by Section 107 of The Copyright Act of 1976. "Fair Use" legally eliminates the need to obtain permission or pay royalties for the use of previously copyrighted materials if the purposes of display include "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research." Section 107 establishes four criteria for determining whether the use of a work in any particular case qualifies as a "fair use". A work used does not necessarily have to satisfy all four criteria to qualify as an instance of "fair use". Rather, "fair use" is determined by the overall extent to which the cited work does or does not substantially satisfy the criteria in their totality. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. For more information go to:
THIS DOCUMENT MAY CONTAIN COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL. COPYING AND DISSEMINATION IS PROHIBITED WITHOUT PERMISSION OF THE COPYRIGHT OWNERS.