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Military Wants Its Own Spies

Moving onto the CIA's turf, the Pentagon is seeking a cadre of operatives for global reconnaissance and the fight against terrorism.

March 04, 2003|Greg Miller | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is planning to assemble its own network of spies who will be posted around the world to collect intelligence on terrorist organizations and other military targets, moving squarely into a cloak-and-dagger realm that has traditionally been the domain of the CIA, according to Department of Defense officials familiar with the plans.

Officials said the aim is to form a deep roster of intelligence operators capable of handling a range of assignments -- from reconnaissance for military operations to long-term clandestine work in which Pentagon spies would function like CIA case officers, working undercover to steal secrets and recruit informants.

The number of spies is expected to be in the hundreds, although officials cautioned it could be years before a force that size is in position.

The program would be managed by the Defense Intelligence Agency, a little-known Pentagon spy shop that mostly conducts intelligence analysis. Recruits would be drawn from all four branches of the military, with an emphasis on attracting those with special forces backgrounds. All would undergo the same training as CIA case officers at the agency's southern Virginia training facility for clandestine service, known in intelligence circles as the Farm.

The effort stems in large part from frustration within the Pentagon over the extent to which the military was forced to rely on the CIA in the opening stages of the war in Afghanistan. It also reflects concern that there are too few CIA officers deployed around the world, and that they are not adequately focused on collecting intelligence that is useful to the military, several officials said.

"The CIA doesn't have the number of assets to be doing what the secretary of Defense wants done," said one Pentagon official familiar with the plans. "This is a capability the secretary wants the Department of Defense to have."

Pentagon officials stressed that the plans are being pursued in close coordination with the CIA, and that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and CIA Director George J. Tenet have discussed the matter. Officials at the agency declined to comment.

Still, the Pentagon effort marks a particularly aggressive incursion by the military at a time when the Pentagon and the CIA are increasingly encroaching on one another's turf.

"The predominant effort will be" with the CIA, said Richard L. Haver, a special assistant to Rumsfeld on intelligence matters. But he and others made it clear that the Pentagon wants its own people in global hot spots.

Alluding to the military's lack of presence in Afghanistan before the war there began, Haver said, "We can't have a situation where the military sits there in total ignorance."

Haver indicated that budgeting for the Pentagon spy program is already taking shape. "I've seen budget lines, billet numbers, etc.," though he declined to be more specific, saying he "wouldn't want to tell the enemy too much about exactly what we're doing here."

Congressional aides said intelligence committee members in the Senate and House have yet to see details of the plans. But they noted that there is broad support among lawmakers for expansion of the nation's ability to collect human intelligence -- an area identified as a major shortfall by investigators of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Intelligence experts said the new program is a logical step at a time when the Sept. 11 attacks and the ongoing terrorist threat have exposed inadequacies in the nation's intelligence capabilities. But some said there is also cause for caution.

"There is an institutional concern about locating intelligence functions in a mission-oriented agency," said Steven Aftergood, an intelligence policy analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, "because often the result is you get intelligence that is influenced or deformed by the mission."

Though the CIA increasingly conducts its own paramilitary operations, the agency's fundamental mission is to serve as an unbiased gatherer of intelligence to inform policymakers. The Pentagon exists to carry out operations, and may seek to gather intelligence that justifies those missions.

Recasting the old saying that to a hammer, everything looks like a nail, Aftergood said, "when you've got a Stealth fighter, everything looks like a target."

Indeed, officials said a major objective of the new spy plan is to produce more "actionable intelligence," a Pentagon buzzword for information leading to military operations. Last year, Rumsfeld gave the U.S. Special Operations Command -- which includes the Army Green Berets and the Navy SEALs -- the lead among military organizations in the hunt for Al Qaeda.

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