Pentagon Sends Its Spies to Join Fight on Terror

By ERIC SCHMITT

New York Times

January 24, 2005

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 - The Pentagon has created battlefield intelligence units that for the first time have been assigned to work directly with Special Operations forces on secret counterterrorism missions, tasks that had been largely the province of the Central Intelligence Agency, senior Defense Department officials said Sunday.

The small clandestine teams, drawn from specialists within the Defense Intelligence Agency, provide the military's elite Special Operations units with battlefield intelligence using advanced technology, recruit spies in foreign countries, and scout potential targets, the officials said.

The teams, which officials say have been operating in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries for about two years, represent a prime example of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's desire to expand the Pentagon's ability to collect human intelligence - information gathered by spies rather than by technological means - both within the military services and the Defense Intelligence Agency, whose focus is on intelligence used on the battlefield.

"It is accurate and should not be surprising that the Department of Defense is attempting to improve its longstanding human intelligence capability," the Pentagon spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, said in a statement on Sunday. "A principal conclusion of the 9/11 commission report is that the U.S. human intelligence capability must be improved across the board."

Mr. Di Rita's statement came in response to an article in The Washington Post on Sunday that disclosed the existence of the clandestine units. Mr. Di Rita denied that the intelligence units reported directly to Mr. Rumsfeld, as The Post reported.

Some intelligence experts said the creation of the units was the latest chapter in a long-running battle for intelligence dominance between Mr. Rumsfeld's Defense Department and the C.I.A., a battle that has only intensified since the 9/11 commission recommended creating the job of national intelligence director to oversee all intelligence programs.

"This is really a giant turf battle," said Walter P. Lang, a former head of the Defense Human Intelligence Service, a branch of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Among the C.I.A.'s concerns, former intelligence officials have said, are that an expanded Pentagon role in intelligence-gathering could, by design or effect, escape the strict Congressional oversight imposed by law on such operations when they are carried out by intelligence agencies.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said on the CBS News program "Face the Nation" that the Senate Armed Services Committee would hold hearings on the intelligence units.

But other analysts said the teams were merely the latest incarnation of intelligence units that the Army, Navy and Air Force operated throughout the cold war to recruit spies, debrief defectors and gather information about foreign weapons systems in countries like China and the Soviet Union.

"D.O.D. is not looking to go develop strategic intelligence," said one senior adviser to Mr. Rumsfeld who has an intelligence background. "They're looking for information like, where's a good landing strip? Who's going to get our guys in and out of the country? Who will rat out the activities of home countries' military and intelligence services?"

The intelligence teams are made up of case officers, linguists, interrogators and other specialists from the Defense Human Intelligence Service. Within the Defense Intelligence Agency, these teams are known as the Strategic Support Operations Group, said a senior Pentagon official who has been briefed on their activities. The group is headed by Col. George Waldroup, an Army intelligence reservist and former midlevel manager at the Immigration and Naturalization Service. These front-line teams can be deployed more often, and closer to front lines, than other D.I.A. units called national intelligence support teams, which are groups of technical experts sent to commanders' wartime headquarters to provide analytical advice.

"Prior to the 9/11 commission issuing their conclusion that the nation's human intelligence capability must be improved, the Defense Human Intelligence Service has been taking steps to be more focused and task-oriented for the global war on terror," Mr. Di Rita said in the statement. "One of the objectives of this effort is to make better human intelligence capability available to assist combatant commanders for specific missions involving regular or special operations forces."

The teams work closely with the Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., and its clandestine component, the Joint Special Operations Command, at Fort Bragg, N.C., which includes the Army unit popularly known as Delta Force.

The Pentagon is drawing up a range of plans that would give the military a more prominent role in intelligence-collection operations. Among the ideas cited by Defense Department officials is the idea of "fighting for intelligence," or commencing combat operations chiefly to obtain intelligence.

One proposal described by Defense Department officials is the creation of a Joint Intelligence Operational Command within the Pentagon, which would elevate intelligence missions to much more prominence and possibly replace the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Many of the new approaches stem from initiatives by Stephen A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, and his deputy, Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin of the Army, Pentagon officials said.

Even some of Mr. Rumsfeld's supporters acknowledge that as the Pentagon takes on new intelligence-related activities, it has not yet fully worked out coordination issues like details to ensure that the C.I.A. knows its units' activities and locations.

In his statement on Sunday, Mr. Di Rita disputed any suggestion that the Pentagon's new human-intelligence activities cross any legal lines or are conducted without the C.I.A. or Congress being notified.

"These actions are being taken within existing statutory authorities to support traditional military operations, and any assertion to the contrary is wrong," Mr. Di Rita said. "The department remains in regular consultation with the relevant committees in Congress and with other agencies within the intelligence community, including the C.I.A."

A Central Intelligence Agency spokesman declined to comment on the Washington Post article.

In recent weeks intelligence officials who have been asked about Pentagon efforts to expand intelligence-gathering efforts have responded carefully, praising current levels of cooperation between the Pentagon and the C.I.A., but saying the relationship depends on each agency focusing on the tasks it does best.

A former senior intelligence official who left his post last year said he had known that the Defense Department was seeking a greater role in human intelligence. But he said he had not known that the Defense Department had begun any such effort, and said he did not believe that the Central Intelligence Agency had been notified.

"I was astounded, and it's the sort of thing I should have known about, given the perch I had," he said of the details reported by The Post.

A second former intelligence official said there had been extensive discussions between the C.I.A. and the Pentagon in the past two years about Defense Department efforts to expand its role in gathering human intelligence. Among those involved were General Boykin and James L. Pavitt, who stepped down as the C.I.A.'s deputy director of operations last August.

But that former intelligence official said the C.I.A. believed as recently as last summer that it had forestalled General Boykin's efforts to expand the Pentagon's role into collecting human intelligence in areas like terrorism and the proliferation of illicit weapons.

Douglas Jehl contributed reporting for this article.