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Wider Pentagon Spy Role Is Urged

October 26, 2002|Greg Miller | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- An influential Pentagon advisory board is calling for a major expansion of the U.S. special forces' role in combating terrorism, and is seeking a new White House office to plan "preemptive" covert operations across the globe.

The classified proposals urge the Pentagon to "take the terrorist threat as seriously as it takes ... major theater war," urging officials to launch secret missions and intelligence operations to penetrate and disrupt terrorist cells abroad.

Some of those operations should be aimed at signaling to countries harboring terrorists that "their sovereignty will be at risk," according to a summary of the Defense Science Board's recommendations that were described to The Times.

The recommendations were presented this week in high-level Pentagon briefings conducted by members of the board, a little-known but highly respected advisory group that is funded and controlled by the Pentagon.

Some of the proposals would appear to push the military into territory that has traditionally been the domain of the CIA, raising questions about the extent to which such missions would be subject to legal restraints imposed on CIA activities.

But William Schneider Jr., chairman of the Defense Science Board, rejected such concerns, saying the panel set out to identify ways that special forces could do more to assist the war on terrorism, not encroach on other agencies' authority.

"The CIA executes the plans but they use Department of Defense assets," Schneider said. He stressed that the board is not recommending any changes to long-standing U.S. policies banning assassinations or requiring presidents to approve U.S. covert operations. Nor, he said, is the panel advocating changes that would erode congressional oversight.

The proposals, Schneider said, were "well-received" by senior Pentagon officials and are scheduled to be presented to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld next week.

The board's recommendations are outlined in a 78-page briefing document obtained by defense analyst and Los Angeles Times military columnist William M. Arkin. The document is explored in an Arkin column scheduled to appear in Sunday's Opinion section.

Pentagon Role Debated

It is sure to add to a growing debate over the Pentagon's expanding role in the war on terrorism, intelligence collection and covert operations.

Rumsfeld has touched off turf battles with the CIA and other agencies in recent months as he has sought to consolidate authority over intelligence gathering in the Pentagon and craft a more assertive role for U.S. special forces in an array of overseas activities.

On Thursday, Rumsfeld acknowledged that shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks last year, his office had created a special intelligence analysis unit to examine evidence of links between Al Qaeda and Iraq, a task that would ordinarily fall to the CIA.

At a press briefing, Rumsfeld said the Pentagon has "an excellent relationship" with the agency.

Rumsfeld has already been carving out an expanded role for special forces. He recently gave the special operations command the lead in the hunt for Al Qaeda, raising the possibility of covert operations even in countries with which the United States is not at war. Other Pentagon and intelligence officials say Rumsfeld is deeply frustrated with the CIA's analyses on key issues such as the threat posed by Iraq. He is eager to have U.S. special forces usurp the agency's traditional role, they say.

"He was upset when U.S. forces got on the ground in Afghanistan last August and had to be introduced to local tribal leaders by CIA operatives," said one senior Defense official. Rumsfeld would rather have covert Pentagon operatives "operating elbow to elbow with the CIA or independent of the CIA," the official said.

Many of the proposals in the Defense Science Board's report would push the Pentagon toward that goal.

The report is titled "Summer Study on Special Operations and Joint Forces in Support of Countering Terrorism." It was produced by a 10-member panel of military experts that included Vice Adm. William O. Studeman, former director of the National Security Agency, which eavesdrops on electronic communications around the world.

Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said she was not familiar with the report. "There are literally thousands of private individuals who give the Pentagon advice and recommendations of all shapes and kinds," she said. "Some of it gets taken on, and some doesn't."

But experts said the Defense Science Board occupies a unique position. "The board is probably the most influential group the Pentagon has," said Lawrence J. Korb, an assistant secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration. "People pay attention to the board."

A Changing Mission

The document focuses on the shifting counter-terrorism mission of U.S. special forces, which include the Army Green Berets, Delta Force operatives and Navy SEALs.

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