The Australian – Dec 3, 2012
THE Pentagon, in a major expansion of its intelligence gathering activities, plans to assemble an espionage network rivalling the CIA in size, The Washington Post reports.
Citing unnamed US officials, the newspaper said that as part of the project US military officials would send hundreds of additional spies overseas.
They also plan to overhaul the Defence Intelligence Agency, which has focused primarily during the past decade on activities related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When the expansion is complete, the DIA is expected to have as many as 1600 intelligence “collectors” around the world – a major step-up for an agency whose presence abroad had not exceeded triple-digits in recent years, the paper said.
The total included military attaches and others who would not work undercover, The Post said.
But US officials told the daily the plan also included deployment of a new generation of clandestine operatives to be trained by the CIA.
These new operatives were to work frequently with the US Joint Special Operations Command, but they would get their spying assignments from the Department of Defence, the paper said.
The Pentagon’s top intelligence priorities were Islamist militant groups in Africa, weapons transfers by North Korea and Iran and military modernisation in China, the paper said.
The plan faces some hurdles, including the challenge of creating cover arrangements for hundreds of additional spies. US embassies typically have a set number of slots for intelligence operatives posing as diplomats, most of which are taken by the CIA.
The project has encountered opposition from policymakers on Capitol Hill who see the terms of the new arrangement as overly generous to the CIA.
The DIA operatives for the most part would be be working for CIA station chiefs, needing their approval to enter a particular country and clearance on which informants they intended to recruit, said a senior congressional official briefed on the plan. If the CIA needed more people, it should be footing the bill, critics added.
Pentagon officials said that sending more DIA operatives overseas would shore up intelligence on subjects the CIA was unable or unwilling to pursue. “We are in a position to contribute to defence priorities that, frankly, the CIA is not,” a senior Defence Department official said.
The project was triggered by a classified study by the Director of National Intelligence last year that concluded key Pentagon intelligence priorities were falling into gaps created by the DIA’s heavy focus on battlefield issues and the CIA’s workload.
Officials said the DIA needed to be repositioned as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan gave way to what many expected would be a period of sporadic conflicts and simmering threats requiring close-in intelligence work.
“It’s the nature of the world were in,” said the senior defence official, who is involved in overseeing the changes at the DIA.
“We just see a long-term era of change before things settle.”
Additional reporting: agencies