By Walter Pincus
Monday, August 18, 2008
The Defense Intelligence Agency's newly created Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center is going to have an office authorized for the first time to carry out "strategic offensive counterintelligence operations," according to Mike Pick, who will direct the program.
Such covert offensive operations are carried out at home and abroad against people known or suspected to be foreign intelligence officers or connected to foreign intelligence or international terrorist activities -- but not against U.S. citizens, said Toby Sullivan, director of counterintelligence for James R. Clapper Jr., the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
Sullivan and Pick, who is chief of the agency's Counterintelligence Human Intelligence Enterprise Management Office, spoke to reporters during a Pentagon briefing this month.
These sensitive, clandestine operations are "tightly controlled departmental activities run by a small group of specially selected people" within the Defense Department, said Sullivan, who exercises authority over all Pentagon counterintelligence activities. The investigative branches of the three services -- the Army's Counterintelligence Corps, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service -- have done secret offensive counterintelligence operations for years, and now DIA has been given the authority.
The purpose of an offensive counterintelligence operation is not criminal prosecution, which would be the goal if the target were an American recruited by a foreign power to be an agent in this country. In such an investigation, DIA officers would work with the FBI to gather evidence for use in an indictment and a trial.
In strategic offensive counterintelligence operations, a foreign intelligence officer is the target, and the main goals most often are "to gather information, to make something happen . . . to thwart what the opposition is trying to do to us and to learn more about what they're trying to get from us," Sullivan said. In the case of terrorists, the object would be to identify people who might be "trying to do harm, collect information about us, and keep them from doing that."
With foreign intelligence officers, the end could be having them declared persona non grata and thrown out of the country. "There have been situations where . . . the embassy has been asked to remove the diplomat from the country in the past," Sullivan said.
But other operations have run so smoothly that the targeted foreign intelligence officer did not know he had been discovered, or even that he had been manipulated by having been fed false information to send back to superiors. "Depending on the nature of the operation," Sullivan said, "the guy could finish his or her job in the U.S. and be allowed to go wherever they're going."
Two years ago, the DIA asked then-Undersecretary of Defense Stephen A. Cambone for authority to run offensive operations along with a newer Pentagon intelligence agency, the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA). Cambone agreed to a two-year trial, during which those involved "performed admirably," according to Sullivan. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently approved the merger of CIFA into the new DIA center.
Senior Defense Department officials and the combat commanders overseas will now decide what to do with the DIA's new offensive operational authority. "These operations are based on national or DoD security requirements," Sullivan said.
"We are an arrow in somebody's quiver," he said. "We identify the possible threat; we work with those who are feeling the focus of the threat; and they give us some ideas about objectives, at least in the operational areas, what we're trying to accomplish."
Asked by a reporter if he could tell of some past successes, Sullivan replied: "No, I cannot. We're talking about classified operations."
National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them firstname.lastname@example.org.