The US intelligence is following suit on the «Pivot to Asia» creating a new clandestine intelligence service set to emphasize the region, China in particular. On December 2, 2012 the Washington Post reported the US intelligence community is to go through a major reshuffle detailed in the article DIA Sending Hundreds More Spies Overseas (1), echoed by other media outlets. The Pentagon will send hundreds of additional operatives overseas as part of an ambitious plan to assemble an espionage network that rivals the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in size. According to the newspaper’s report, the five-year project is aimed at transforming the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which has been dominated in the past decade by the demands of the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, into a spy service focused on emerging threats and more closely aligned with the CIA and elite military commando units. The expansion complete, the agency will have 1,600 operatives deployed around the world – something that has never taken place before. Aside from military attaches and others who do work openly without undercover, there will be more clandestine operatives deployed overseas. The personnel will be trained by the CIA and often work with the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOP), but they will get their assignments from the Department of Defense. As the report explains, the sharp increase in DIA undercover operatives is part of a far-reaching trend: a convergence of the military and intelligence agencies that has blurred their once-distinct missions, capabilities and even their leadership ranks. The Washington Post stresses the overhaul, combined with the CIA expansion since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, will create a US spy network of unprecedented size. Among the Pentagon’s top intelligence priorities, officials said, are Islamist militant groups in Africa, weapons transfers by North Korea and Iran and military modernization underway in China. According to the Taipei Times article called New US Intelligence Agency to Place Emphasis on China published on April 26, 2012 (2), a number of DIA agents are known to operate in Taiwan. It says, «Taiwan’s geographical proximity to China, as well as its close cultural and business ties with the emerging power, have proven attractive and convenient to US operatives over the years, as has the quality of the intelligence on China collected by Taiwan’s civilian and military intelligence agencies. In addition to the DIA, the CIA and the US Department of Homeland Security, the ultra-secretive National Security Agency (NSA) has also been cooperating with Taiwan’s National Security Bureau in sharing communications intercepts from China. The NSA is also known to have helped Taiwan build a signals intelligence base on Yangmingshan in Taipei».
What is DIA?
The DIA was formed in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy and his famous defense chief Robert McNamara. The number of employees is around 16,500 (35% military and 65% civilian) worldwide. The agency is a member of the Intelligence Community. It is headed by Director, who chairs the Military Intelligence Board. He is a three-star military officer who serves as principal adviser to the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Currently the position is held by Army Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn. The exact numbers and specific budget information are not publicly released due to security considerations. Its activities encompass all aspects of military intelligence requirements – from highly complex technical data to biographies of foreign military leaders. It coordinates the activities of the services intelligence components to provide data to war fighters on the field, defense policy makers and planners, as well as for those involved in operations and weapon systems acquisition. Right now it is in the process of building a new installation in Bethesda, Maryland, which will serve as a new campus for the National Intelligence University, as well as a facility for DIA and other members of the Intelligence Community.
Aside from the DIA, the US intelligence community is a plethora of clandestine organizations, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), other agencies focus on specific threats or technologies, such as the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) or National Reconnaissance Office and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, responsible for remote sensing by spy satellites.
Crux of intelligence realignment
U.S. officials said the changes for the DIA were enabled by a rare syncing of personalities and interests among top officials at the Pentagon and CIA, many of whom switched from one organization to the other to take their current jobs. The project has been spearheaded by Michael G. Vickers, the top intelligence official at the Pentagon and a veteran of the CIA. Agreements on coordination were approved by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, a former CIA director, and retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who resigned abruptly as CIA chief last month over an extramarital affair. Pentagon officials said that sending more DIA operatives overseas would shore up intelligence on subjects that the CIA is not able or willing to pursue. One of the factors affecting the decision was the fact that the CIA is increasingly overstretched, it’s drone campaign against al-Qaeda to continue for at least a decade more, even as the agency faces pressure to stay abreast of issues including turmoil across the Middle East. CIA officials including John D. Bennett, director of the National Clandestine Service, have backed the DIA’s plan. The project was triggered by a classified study by the director of national intelligence last year that concluded that key Pentagon intelligence priorities were falling into gaps created by the DIA’s heavy focus on battlefield issues and CIA’s extensive workload. U.S. officials said the DIA needed to be repositioned as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan give way to what many expect will be a period of sporadic conflicts and simmering threats requiring close-in intelligence work. The plan reflects the Obama administration’s affinity for espionage and covert action over conventional force. It also fits in with the administration’s efforts to codify its counterterrorism policies for a sustained conflict and assemble the pieces abroad necessary to carry it out.
The new slots for the DIA would be created at the expanse of existing positions in the agency. Over the past decade its staff has doubled to about 16,500, mostly by absorbing different intelligence entities. But it has about 500 «case officers» – the term for clandestine operatives – at the moment. This number is to reach between 800 and 1,000 by 2018. The DIA played an extensive and largely hidden role in the JSOC operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, sending analysts into war zones and turning a large chunk of its workforce and computer systems in Virginia into an analytic back office for JSOC. The JSOC commander, Adm. William H. McRaven, who directed the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, has pledged to create between 100 and 200 slots for undercover DIA operatives to work with Special Forces teams being deployed across North Africa and other trouble spots.
The DIA’s overseas presence already includes hundreds of diplomatic posts — mainly defense attachés, who represent the military at U.S. embassies and openly gather information from foreign counterparts. Their roles won’t change, officials said. The attachés are part of the 1,600 target for the DIA, but such «overt» positions will represent a declining share amid the increase in undercover slots, officials said. For decades the DIA has employed undercover operatives to gather secrets on foreign militaries and other targets. But the Defense HUMINT (3) Service, as it was previously known, was often regarded as an inferior sibling to its civilian counterpart.
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, 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. U.S. officials said DIA operatives, because of their military backgrounds, are often better equipped to recruit sources who can answer narrow military questions such as specifications of China’s fifth-generation fighter aircraft and its work on a nuclear aircraft carrier. The CIA has agreed to add new slots to its training classes at its facility in southern Virginia, known as the Farm, to make room for more military spies. The DIA has accounted for about 20 percent of each class in recent years, but that figure will grow. The two agencies have also agreed to share resources overseas, including technical gear, logistics support, space in facilities and vehicles. The DIA has even adopted aspects of the CIA’s internal structure, creating a group called «Persia House,» for example, to pool resources on Iran. Private contractors are involved in the overhaul too. In September the DIA hired six security firms to train agents in «hard and soft skills relevant to living and working in hostile and austere environments». The agency also increasingly hires civilians to fill in its spy ranks.
Hurdles on the way
There are some definite challenges from a cover perspective. The plan faces some challenges, such as the need to create cover identities for hundreds of new undercover operatives. Having them pose as academics or business executives requires painstaking work to create those false identities, and it means they won’t be protected by diplomatic immunity if caught. Some countries reduce the opportunities, for instance this year Russia evicted the USAID notorious for its intelligence activities abroad.
Nothing is said if operatives will go through a career path on the principle of rotation going back to conventional military units from time to time or they are going to belong to narrow specialists category limited in promotion opportunities. Flynn is seeking to reduce turnover in the DIA’s clandestine service by enabling military members to stay with the agency for multiple overseas tours rather than return to their units. But the DIA is increasingly hiring civilians to fill out its spy ranks.
Unlike the CIA, the DIA is not authorized to conduct covert operations that go beyond intelligence gathering, such as drone strikes, political sabotage or arming militants. But the DIA has long played a major role in assessing and identifying targets for the U.S. military, which in recent years has assembled a constellation of drone bases stretching from Afghanistan to East Africa. The expansion of the agency’s clandestine role is likely to heighten concerns that it will be accompanied by an escalation in lethal strikes and other operations outside public view. The changes will affect thousands of DIA employees, as analysts, logistics specialists and others are reassigned to support additional operatives. The United Nations said last month that it intends to investigate civilian deaths from drone strikes. The US has refused to even acknowledge the existence of a drone program in Pakistan. The US military is not subject to the same congressional notification requirements as the CIA, creating yet more potential controversies.
The plan does face opposition in Washington, where critics believe its terms are overly generous to the CIA. Turf wars broke out between the two intelligence agencies after previous efforts by the Pentagon to expand its intelligence role — particularly during Donald Rumsfeld's time as Defense Secretary.
Evidently Washington is applying efforts to enhance intelligence efficiency in view of security failures, especially in the Middle East, North Africa region and Pakistan. The death of Ambassador Stevens in Libya is an example. Creating new slots and personnel training and other things related to strengthening the DIA inevitably means significant expenditure no matter what is said officially. Somehow the issue of budget deficit and fiscal cliff is forgotten when it comes to intelligence and secret off-the-books warfare. Once the CIA acts beyond the scrutiny of Congress, there is a big chance the military intelligence will do the same now. The US has a plethora of intelligence bodies, ever since 9/11 the intelligence community reform has been going on, still it didn’t prevent the terrorist acts like killing the US Ambassador in Libya. There is a big chance there will be two agencies Government doing almost the same thing and competing against each other.
1. DIA sending hundreds more spies overseas, The Washington Post, December 2: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/dia-to-send-hundreds-more-spies-overseas/2012/12/01/97463e4e-399b-11e2-b01f-5f55b193f58f_story.html
2. The Taipei Times, April 26, New US intelligence agency to place emphasis on China: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2012/04/26/2003531308
3. HUMINT –Human Intelligence.