|Questions are Raised About the Department of Defense's New Intelligence Unit
By Ed Warner
01 February 2005
The more intelligence the better the war on terror, says Jack Spencer, senior policy analyst for defense and national security at Washington's Heritage Foundation. In his opinion that explains the creation of a new spy unit in the U.S. Defense Department.
Mr. Spencer says, "Since September 11 we have heard time and again from everyone that we need better and more human intelligence, and really that is what we see happening inside the Department of Defense. They are simply setting up shop to collect the human intelligence they need on the tactical level in order to better facilitate combat operations on the ground, which is totally different than the sort of strategic intelligence that you might associate with other intelligence agencies."
Yet more than tactical intelligence is needed in the terror war, says Mr. Spencer. Attacks must be anticipated and prevented, and that means collecting intelligence in nations beyond the area of combat. Given the nature of the adversary, he says, U.S. military involvement is appropriate.
Mr. Spencer contends, "The Cold war was an identifiable adversary, one that we knew a lot about, one that knew a lot about us. We shared a lot of the same tactics and strategies. We were able to harness our resources toward that adversary. Today the potential adversaries are vast and often undefinable. We do not know who the next adversary will be."
True enough, says Philip Giraldi, former CIA clandestine officer and co-publisher of "Intelligence Brief." But this is a new and unfamiliar role of the American military for which they may not be suited.
Mr. Giraldi notes, "Anyone who has ever been in the military understands that the military operates in a different way. It operates with an up and down kind of direction in terms of responsibility, in how it is managed. It is not exactly your finely honed weapon to be using in covert operations. It is probably a mistake to try to make good soldiers into bad covert operators."
But flexibility is needed in this war, says Neil Livingstone, director of Global Options and
author of ten books on terrorism. Para-military operations are part of intelligence gathering in a world of sudden, unexpected attacks. Until recently, this capacity was pared back at the CIA.
Mr. Livingstone says, "You have in many respects a highly dysfunctional intelligence community where there is a tendency to put your arms around your own assets, not share very much and in many cases a lot of our special actions activities are hamstrung by bureaucracy and over-regulation and oversight by Congress and other parts of the administration."
One concern about the new Pentagon units is the possibility they may avoid Congressional scrutiny so as not to compromise their secrecy. Richard Korn, professor of military history at the University of North Carolina, says this could be a failing.
Professor Korn says, "There is an interpretation that this is an effort to evade those kinds of overseeing functions of the Congress to give the department of defense and the administration a freer hand to act more aggressively. We have a system of government in this country of accountability. Even in wartime, the Congress exercises an oversight function that is indispensable to maintaining of freedom and the accountability of government to the American people."
Professor Korn is reassured by the prospect of Congressional hearings on the new Pentagon units. Early on, Congress can establish clear guidelines before the new operations run into trouble.
"Secret operations of this kind, the effort to shift capabilities, build them up rapidly, use them hastily or under less oversight often result in over-reaching or scandals or embarrassments to the United States or outright errors of varying levels of disaster," says Professor Korn. "One can only hope for the best and one must assume that it is going to be done carefully and responsibly. One of the ways to assure that is for the government of the United States in all of its branches to be operating in synchronization."
That is paramount, says Neil Livingstone - all intelligence units working together for the common good.
Mr. Livingstone says, "We want to draw a dividing line that would separate CIA activities from Pentagon activities and at the same time have appropriate oversight but not stifling oversight over both organizations to ensure that as they say in the parlance of the intelligence community, they do not go off the reservation or they do not do something foolish."
Mr. Livingstone says for all the talk of organization, intelligence is only as good as the people who collect it.