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Secret Unit Expands Rumsfeld's Domain

"The secretary actually has more responsibility to collect intelligence for the national foreign intelligence program . . . than does the CIA director," Boykin said. "That's why you hear all this information being published about the secretary having 80 percent of the [intelligence] budget. Well, yeah, but he has 80 percent of the responsibility for collection, as well."

CIA spokeswoman Anya Guilsher said the agency would grant no interviews for this article.


The defense secretary has a large responsibility to collect foreign intelligence, Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin said. (Spec. Shawn Morris -- Fort Dix Public Affairs Office)

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Pentagon officials emphasized their intention to remain accountable to Congress, but they also asserted that defense intelligence missions are subject to fewer legal constraints than Rumsfeld's predecessors believed. That assertion involves new interpretations of Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs the armed services, and Title 50, which governs, among other things, foreign intelligence.

Under Title 10, for example, the Defense Department must report to Congress all "deployment orders," or formal instructions from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to position U.S. forces for combat. But guidelines issued this month by Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone state that special operations forces may "conduct clandestine HUMINT operations . . . before publication" of a deployment order, rendering notification unnecessary. Pentagon lawyers also define the "war on terror" as ongoing, indefinite and global in scope. That analysis effectively discards the limitation of the defense secretary's war powers to times and places of imminent combat.

Under Title 50, all departments of the executive branch are obliged to keep Congress "fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities." The law exempts "traditional . . . military activities" and their "routine support." Advisers said Rumsfeld, after requesting a fresh legal review by the Pentagon's general counsel, interprets "traditional" and "routine" more expansively than his predecessors.

"Operations the CIA runs have one set of restrictions and oversight, and the military has another," said a Republican member of Congress with a substantial role in national security oversight, declining to speak publicly against political allies. "It sounds like there's an angle here of, 'Let's get around having any oversight by having the military do something that normally the [CIA] does, and not tell anybody.' That immediately raises all kinds of red flags for me. Why aren't they telling us?"

The enumeration by Myers of "emerging target countries" for clandestine intelligence work illustrates the breadth of the Pentagon's new concept. All those named, save Somalia, have allied themselves with the United States -- if unevenly -- against al Qaeda and its jihadist allies.

A high-ranking official with direct responsibility for the initiative, declining to speak on the record about espionage in friendly nations, said the Defense Department sometimes has to work undetected inside "a country that we're not at war with, if you will, a country that maybe has ungoverned spaces, or a country that is tacitly allowing some kind of threatening activity to go on."

Assistant Secretary of Defense Thomas O'Connell, who oversees special operations policy, said Rumsfeld has discarded the "hide-bound way of thinking" and "risk-averse mentalities" of previous Pentagon officials under every president since Gerald R. Ford.

"Many of the restrictions imposed on the Defense Department were imposed by tradition, by legislation, and by interpretations of various leaders and legal advisors," O'Connell said in a written reply to follow-up questions. "The interpretations take on the force of law and may preclude activities that are legal. In my view, many of the authorities inherent to [the Defense Department] . . . were winnowed away over the years."

After reversing the restrictions, Boykin said, Rumsfeld's next question "was, 'Okay, do I have the capability?' And the answer was, 'No you don't have the capability. . . . And then it became a matter of, 'I want to build a capability to be able to do this.' "

Known by several names since its inception as Project Icon on April 25, 2002, the Strategic Support Branch is an arm of the DIA's nine-year-old Defense Human Intelligence Service, which until now has concentrated on managing military attachés assigned openly to U.S. embassies around the world.

Rumsfeld's initiatives are not connected to previously reported negotiations between the Defense Department and the CIA over control of paramilitary operations, such as the capture of individuals or the destruction of facilities.

According to written guidelines made available to The Post, the Defense Department has decided that it will coordinate its human intelligence missions with the CIA but will not, as in the past, await consent. It also reserves the right to bypass the agency's Langley headquarters, consulting CIA officers in the field instead. The Pentagon will deem a mission "coordinated" after giving 72 hours' notice to the CIA.

Four people with firsthand knowledge said defense personnel have already begun operating under "non-official cover" overseas, using false names and nationalities. Those missions, and others contemplated in the Pentagon, skirt the line between clandestine and covert operations. Under U.S. law, "clandestine" refers to actions that are meant to be undetected, and "covert" refers to those for which the U.S. government denies its responsibility. Covert action is subject to stricter legal requirements, including a written "finding" of necessity by the president and prompt notification of senior leaders of both parties in the House and Senate.

O'Connell, asked whether the Pentagon foresees greater involvement in covert action, said "that remains to be determined." He added: "A better answer yet might be, depends upon the situation. But no one I know of is raising their hand and saying at DOD, 'We want control of covert operations.' "

One scenario in which Pentagon operatives might play a role, O'Connell said, is this: "A hostile country close to our borders suddenly changes leadership. . . . We would want to make sure the successor is not hostile."

Researcher Rob Thomason contributed to this report.


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