officials acknowledged yesterday that the Pentagon has created new
clandestine teams to gain better human intelligence for military
commanders but emphasized that the program was developed with the
cooperation of the Central Intelligence Agency, not to bypass it.
The Strategic Support Branch, housed within the
Defense Intelligence Agency, was created to give high-level military
officers more control over "actual intelligence" that they can use
while making operational military plans, according to two defense
officials who briefed reporters on the condition that their names not
be used. They said that the program is a joint effort between officials
at the Pentagon and CIA and that its organization has been running in
its current form since October under funding authorized for this fiscal
The existence of
the Pentagon's new espionage arm was first disclosed publicly in a
Washington Post article on Sunday, which said the program grew out of
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld 's desire to end his dependence on
the CIA for intelligence gathering. The article reported that officials
said that elements of the new unit have been operating in secret for
two years in Iraq, Afghanistan and in some undisclosed countries, and
was designed to improve Pentagon abilities in what is called human
intelligence -- activities such as prisoner interrogation, scouting and
recruiting foreign spies.
At the CIA, an official who declined to be named said
of Pentagon intelligence initiatives that "they've got the same
objectives we do." Defense intelligence units, the official said, are
especially well suited to collecting battlefield information on
"bridges and tunnels and things like that, and frankly we don't always
want to be pulling the CIA resources to do those."
On broader missions not directly related to combat
operations, the official emphasized that the CIA has to have the final
say. New Pentagon internal guidelines say a mission will be deemed
"coordinated" with the CIA after 72 hours' notice to the agency. "It's
critical not only to have coordination, but . . . we strongly believe
the [CIA] chief of station has to be responsible" for intelligence
activities in each country, the official said.
The disclosure of the program evoked widespread
discussion on Capitol Hill yesterday, with some legislators unsure
whether the program is something they had authorized, and others
defending the merits of the effort. The defense officials said
confusion arose because the program was authorized within the FY05
budget under a different name -- Humint Augmentation Teams -- and was
The chairmen of both the House and Senate Armed Services committees said yesterday they support the programs.
"In my opinion, these intelligence programs are vital
to our national security interests, and I am satisfied that they are
being coordinated with the appropriate agencies of the federal
government," Sen. John R. Warner (R-Va.) said in a statement released
after a private briefing with Stephen A. Cambone, undersecretary of
defense for intelligence. "The committee records indicate that the
appropriate budget documents were sent up by the department, reviewed
by the committee, and authorizations relative to these programs were
incorporated in the FY05 bill."
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) agreed.
"The war on terrorism has made it clear that we need
to urgently improve our nation's human intelligence capabilities,
including those of the Department of Defense when conducting military
operations," he said in a statement. Some Democrats, however, said the
new intelligence program should be the subject of hearings.
Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.), a member of the
House Armed Services Committee, said lawmakers have a duty to examine
the program. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked the Senate
intelligence committee to look into the issue.
"I've been asked a number of questions, questions
which I cannot answer, about reports that the Department of Defense has
created new intelligence special forces and has changed the guidelines
for reporting to Congress," Feinstein said. "I think that it is within
the oversight responsibility of the intelligence committee to have
answers to these questions."
Staff writer Chuck Babington contributed to this report.