The Defense Department is seeking to remodel and upgrade its intelligence structure and operations, based on experience in Afghanistan and Iraq and current and expected systems for collecting technical and human intelligence.
The changes are being promoted while the intelligence community is awaiting the confirmation of John D. Negroponte as the director of national intelligence, who under a new statute is to become the president's chief intelligence adviser, with budgetary control over some of the Pentagon's intelligence-collection agencies.
Among the first steps the Pentagon is planning is upgrading intelligence from being a staff function at headquarters to having analysts and human intelligence collectors on the front lines, particularly in the war on terrorism.
"We need close and real-time intelligence support for what we are doing," a Defense Department senior official said yesterday in describing an outline for the restructuring that he said would be part of the Pentagon's fiscal 2007 budget.
Even now, some technical collection capabilities enable Predator unmanned aircraft in Iraq to deliver real-time imagery of potential enemy targets yards or miles away to analysts working with small ground units. Those analysts can at the same time download from satellites background data from Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and CIA files to give context to the imagery and help plan the units' moves.
The remodeling is "viewing DoD [Department of Defense] intelligence as an operational capability that is integral to joint warfare," said Lt. Col. Chris Conway, a Pentagon spokesman.
The Pentagon has already begun to overhaul and increase its human intelligence, or humint, activities "to address shortfalls," Conway said. One step was to create "tactical humint teams," with 160 operating in Iraq. They comprise fully uniformed soldiers who knock on doors to interview families and conduct some interrogations.
Less well-known, and due for expansion, is the Pentagon's clandestine collection of intelligence in foreign countries where operations may eventually take place. Such so-called battlefield preparation activities, where covert operators scour potential landing spots and target areas, took place before the Iraq invasion and have taken place in other countries, according to intelligence sources.
The Army, which carries most of the burden in Iraq, not only is going to shift more personnel into intelligence but also make it a better career path, the Defense Department senior official said. "Professionalization and sustainment of the intelligence workforce" is one of the goals of the new program, Conway said.
At a higher level, the Pentagon is looking at pulling together the heads of its eight intelligence agencies and putting them under one military commander, possibly a general rank officer. These include not only the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force intelligence arms but also the DIA; the National Security Agency, which performs analysis of electronic intercepts; the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which does imagery analysis; and the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates satellites.
The proposed action comes at a time when Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) have introduced a bill to create a unified intelligence command inside the Pentagon under a four-star officer.
Chambliss described the plan as creating "one point of contact for military intelligence for the new DNI and . . . a more efficient, responsive and simpler military intelligence structure."
The Pentagon planning calls for integrating some of the separate intelligence functions used by different services under one officer, perhaps wearing two hats.