By The Washington Post, December 2, 2012
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will send hundreds of additional spies overseas as part of an ambitious plan to assemble an espionage network that rivals the CIA in size, U.S. officials said.
The project is aimed at transforming the Defense Intelligence Agency, which has been dominated for a decade by the demands of two wars, into a spy service focused on emerging threats and more closely aligned with the CIA and elite military commando units.
When the expansion is complete, the agency is expected to have as many as 1,600 “collectors” in positions around the world, an unprecedented total for an agency whose presence abroad numbered in the triple digits in recent years.
The total includes military attachés and others who do not work undercover. But U.S. officials said the growth will be driven over a five-year period by the deployment of a new generation of clandestine operatives. They will be trained by the CIA and often work with the Joint Special Operations Command, but they will get their spying assignments from the Department of Defense.
Among the Pentagon’s top intelligence priorities, officials said, are Islamist groups in Africa, weapons transfers by North Korea and Iran, and military modernization under way in China.
“This is not a marginal adjustment for DIA,” the agency’s director, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, said at a recent conference, during which he outlined the changes but did not describe them in detail. “This is a major adjustment for national security.”
The sharp increase in the agency’s undercover operatives is part of a far-reaching trend: a convergence of the military and intelligence agencies that has blurred their once-distinct missions, capabilities and even their leadership ranks.
Through its drone program, the CIA accounts for a majority of lethal U.S. operations outside the Afghan war zone. At the same time, the Pentagon’s plan to establish what it calls the Defense Clandestine Service, or DCS, reflects the military’s latest and largest foray into secret intelligence work.
Unlike the CIA, the Pentagon’s spy agency is not authorized to conduct covert operations that go beyond intelligence gathering, such as drone strikes, political sabotage or arming militants.
But the agency’s has long played a major role in assessing and identifying targets for U.S. forces, which in recent years have assembled a constellation of drone bases stretching from Afghanistan to East Africa.
The expansion of the agency’s clandestine role is likely to heighten concerns that it will be accompanied by an escalation in lethal strikes and other operations outside public view. Because of differences in legal authorities, the military isn’t subject to the same congressional notification requirements as the CIA, leading to potential oversight gaps.
U.S. officials said that the agency’s realignment won’t hamper congressional scrutiny. “We have to keep congressional staffs and members in the loop,” Flynn said in October.