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DOD-CIA Convergence: The DIA Defense Clandestine Service Initiative Runs Into Trouble

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 10:43 AM

I’ve been meaning for some time to comment on recent developments impacting the DOD-CIA convergence trend.  While much of the attention under this heading understandably focuses on drones, it is important to remember that the convergence trend runs in both directions.  Recent developments relating to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) illustrate this point.

Back in 2011, it seems, a report conducted for the DNI concluded that a significant gap was emerging between the HUMINT collection efforts of DIA (which tended to focus, understandably, on the needs of commanders in Afghanistan (and previously on the needs of commanders in Iraq)) and the efforts of CIA (which in theory encompass all national intelligence priorities but which in practice had become severely strained by the many demands on those resources).  The report apparently concluded that as a result of this divide, key targets including Chinese military modernization, WMD proliferation, and the emergence of terrorism threats away from Central Asia (particularly Africa) might be receiving too little attention on the HUMINT front.  The proposed solution was to reorganize and expand DIA’s HUMINT collection capacity.

In the wake of that report, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers led an effort to reorient DIA toward this goal.  The upshot was a proposal to reorganize DIA’s collectors into a “Defense Clandestine Service” (mirroring the CIA’s National Clandestine Service), and to expand and redeploy the ranks of those officers.  That proposal was approved in April 2012, about the time that Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn became DIA’s new director.

More details of the initiative emerged a few weeks ago, as The Washington Post and others reported on the outlines of the expansion and the manner in which it reflects both the cooperative and competitive aspects of the convergence trend:  

When the expansion is complete, the DIA is expected to have as many as 1,600 “collectors” in positions around the world, an unprecedented total for an agency whose presence abroad numbered in the triple digits in recent years.  The total includes military attachés and others who do not work undercover. But U.S. officials said the growth will be driven over a five-year period by the deployment of a new generation of clandestine operatives. They will be trained by the CIA and often work with the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, but they will get their spying assignments from the Department of Defense.

Prior efforts to boost DIA collection capacity had generated CIA resistance, but it seems that this round went more smoothly thanks to (i) an agreement with CIA pursuant to which Chiefs of Station not only will know about DIA activities in their area but also will have authority to veto particular initiatives and (ii) the fact that CIA may be only too happy to unload onto DIA agents various taskings that are of more interest to the Pentagon than anyone else.  As Greg Miller explains:

Previous efforts by the Pentagon to expand its intelligence role — particularly during Donald H. Rumsfeld’s time as defense secretary — led to intense turf skirmishes with the CIA. Those frictions have been reduced, officials said, largely because the CIA sees advantages to the new arrangement, including assurances that its station chiefs overseas will be kept apprised of DIA missions and have authority to reject any that might conflict with CIA efforts. The CIA will also be able to turn over hundreds of Pentagon-driven assignments to newly arrived DIA operatives. “The CIA doesn’t want to be looking for surface-to-air missiles in Libya” when it’s also under pressure to assess the opposition in Syria, said a former high-ranking U.S. military intelligence officer who worked closely with both spy services. Even in cases where their assignments overlap, the DIA is likely to be more focused than the CIA on military aspects — what U.S. commanders in Africa might ask about al-Qaeda in Mali, for example, rather than the broader questions raised by the White House.

It all seemed to moving along quite well until recently, when the Senate Armed Service Committee intervened by inserting language in the pending National Defense Authorization Act for FY ’13 (section 932 of S. 3254) which would suspend the expansion initiative pending certain financial and managerial inquiries.   As summarized by Miller:

[Section 932] requires the Pentagon to produce “an independent estimate of the costs” of the new clandestine service, as well as a blueprint for where and when the newly hired spies would be deployed. The language, drafted by the Senate Armed Services Committee, also instructs the Defense Department to turn over any agreements it has reached with other agencies — including the CIA — that would be involved in creating the Defense Clandestine Service. The measure cites a litany of problems with existing Pentagon intelligence efforts, including “poor or non-existent career management” for operatives who have been trained but were given “unproductive” assignments overseas or were often transferred back to regular military units. If the Pentagon could use existing resources more effectively, the measure concludes, ”the case could be made that investment in this area could decline, rather than remain steady or grow.”

Stay tuned….