Carlo Munoz – The Hill April 24, 2012
A newly formed intelligence cell within the Pentagon will hone in on potential, long-term threats posed by China and Iran while continuing to support the intel needs of combat troops in the field.
The new Defense Clandestine Service (DCS) will team up with its counterparts at the CIA and across the U.S. intelligence community to gather information on national security threats beyond the battlefield.
“This is principally a realignment within the Defense Intelligence Agency. This is basically trying to make more effective or efficient what we’re already doing,” a senior defense official told United Press International on Monday.
The new service will be funded within the Pentagon’s existing budget and require no new manpower or new legal authorities, he said.
The service is expected to grow by “several more hundred” operatives in the coming years, the official told UPI.
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) leads and coordinates intel operations led by the various services, focused primarily on supporting military combat operations across the globe.
Gleaning information on potential threats posed by countries such as China, Iran and North Korea has traditionally fallen to the civilian-led intelligence agencies.
But even before the creation of the DCS, which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta approved last week, ties between DOD and the intel community have been growing tighter in recent years.
The Pentagon’s classified RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned aircraft was captured by Iran last December after it crashed inside the country’s borders.
The stealthy drone was conducting an intelligence gathering mission over Iran, run by American handlers across the border in Afghanistan, at the time of he crash.
The CIA has reportedly been using military aerial drones to take out top terrorist targets in countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan. Despite reports, the White House refuses to publicly acknowledge the drone program’s existence.
Recent news reports claim that a top leader in al Qaeda’s cell in Yemen, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was killed this week by a CIA-run unmanned airstrike.
The group’s Yemen cell is one of al Qaeda’s most active and is considered one of the most violent factions of the terror organization.
While the new DSC could prove to be a boon for American intelligence efforts across the globe, the new organization could fall victim to the bureaucratic turf wars that are commonplace in Washington.
Dennis Blair, former head of the Office of National Intelligence and then-CIA chief Panetta got into a tussle in early 2000 over which organization would control appointing CIA station chiefs worldwide.
Panetta won that fight, and Blair was eventually replaced by current DNI chief James Clapper.
It remains to be seen how the new DSC will fit into the overall U.S. intelligence structure, especially once the war in Afghanistan winds down.