Monday, March 12, 2007

Gates To Roll Back DOD HUMINT Effort

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is considering a plan to curtail the Pentagon's clandestine spying activities, which were expanded by his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, after the 9/11 attacks.

The undercover work allowed military personnel to collect intelligence about terrorists and to recruit spies in foreign countries independently of the CIA and without much congressional oversight.

Former military and intelligence officials, including those involved in an ongoing and largely informal debate about the military's forays into espionage, said that Gates, a former CIA director, is likely to "roll back" several of Rumsfeld's controversial initiatives.

This could include changing the mission of the Pentagon's Strategic Support Branch, an intelligence-gathering unit comprising Special Forces, military linguists, and interrogators that Rumsfeld set up to report directly to him. ...

The former official added that the Defense Intelligence Agency, which has also expanded its human spying efforts, could be returned to a more analytical role. The official noted that Gates doesn't intend to eliminate the Strategic Support Branch but said that its mandate will change. The unit arose from a written order by Rumsfeld to end the "near total dependence on CIA" for intelligence-gathering, and agency officials viewed it as a competitor. ...

Those tracking the debate said they don't foresee any formal action by Gates until retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper is confirmed as Defense undersecretary for intelligence. Gates selected Clapper, who was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the early 1990s, in January, but a date for his conformation hearing hasn't been set.

A former intelligence official who knows Clapper well said he's also concerned that the Pentagon has overstepped its bounds. "I think Jim is as uncomfortable with it as anyone is in the intelligence community," the former official said. "The feeling on this one is that this was a Rumsfeld-created exercise ... by people who really didn't understand intelligence." ...

The Defense Department has had its own human intelligence service since 1993. But it was never as expansive as the CIA's operations directorate, which has since been renamed the National Clandestine Service and is legally designated as the lead human intelligence agency.

Edward W. Gnehm, who served as ambassador to Jordan from 2001 to 2004, said that in late 2003 the defense attaché in Amman showed him a message from the Pentagon describing a Pentagon intelligence team that was being sent to Amman to gather information about the stability of the Jordanian government.

Mr. Gnehm said that the note had gone directly to the defense attaché, and stated explicitly that the ambassador and C.I.A. station in Jordan was not to be notified of the Pentagon team's presence.

"The message made it clear that these guys were going to be acting under the authority of the secretary of defense," he said.

"Our station chief in Amman hit the roof," he added.

Mr. Gnehm said he called two other ambassadors in the Middle East and found out that the Pentagon had plans to quietly insert intelligence teams in those countries as well. ...

Pentagon officials have praised the work of the intelligence teams, known as Military Liaison Elements (M.L.E.'s), but a report last December by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that the military presence in embassies had often blurred chains of command and created missions that overlapped with other intelligence services, developments that could hinder efforts to combat terrorism.

With more American spies in the field, (Maj. Gen. Michael E. Ennis, who holds a position at the CIA responsible for all human spying across the intelligence community) said, intelligence officials were developing a slate of new training programs to establish clear roles and help ensure that different agencies were not trying to recruit the same sources.

"An M.L.E. would probably not try to recruit a nuclear scientist somewhere, because they don't have that skill set," he said. ...

Mr. Gates has also scaled back the Pentagon’s information campaign, a priority of Mr. Rumsfeld's. A team of public affairs officers working behind closed doors to churn out e-mail messages, press releases, opinion pieces and corrections to perceived inaccuracies or biased reporting worldwide was disbanded shortly after Mr. Gates was sworn in.

The work of the "rapid response cell" had been criticized by some Congressional Democrats as focusing more on protecting the reputation of one person, Mr. Rumsfeld, than on defending the interests of the broader military.


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