The Strategic Support Branch will compete with the CIA. (and go click thru and read the whole article)
The Pentagon, expanding into the CIA's historic bailiwick, has created a new espionage arm and is reinterpreting U.S. law to give Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld broad authority over clandestine operations abroad, according to interviews with participants and documents obtained by The Washington Post.
The previously undisclosed organization, called the Strategic Support Branch, arose from Rumsfeld's written order to end his "near total dependence on CIA" for what is known as human intelligence. Designed to operate without detection and under the defense secretary's direct control, the Strategic Support Branch deploys small teams of case officers, linguists, interrogators and technical specialists alongside newly empowered special operations forces.
Some may cast a skeptical eye at this move because Donald Rumsfeld is the driving force behind it. However, I think it has merits on several grounds. First of all, competition between government agencies is a good thing when it can be set up. If we are to believe a large variety of media reports (and I'm inclined to believe these reports) the CIA for years has done an inadequate job of human intelligence. Of course some of the CIA's inadequacies are no doubt due to causes external to itself. However, that is besides the point. The CIA has not been doing a good enough job and, in all likelihood, will continue to do an inadequate job. So why not bring a competitor onto the stage?
Another argument for bringing the US Defense Department on as a competitor is that the DOD has more resources (read: more allies in both Congress and industry and in the public at large) to protect itself from left-leaning folks who think a national intelligence capability is a bad thing and that the CIA is full of incarnated sons of the devil. Intelligence gathering is serious business. We need for it less easily blocked by the whims of various fools.
Another argument for a competing intelligence agency is that it creates barriers between various operations so that a traitor in the US government would be less able to give up the whole list of recruited foreigners which covert field operatives have managed to recruit.
Yet another argument for a specifically DOD-based clandestine service is that the DOD has larger missions and putting intelligence agents under the direct supervision and tasking of the Secretary of Defense will cause those agents to operate according to the priorities of the DOD. At the same time, having the CIA operate by a different set of priorities is also a good thing since there are priorities at the level of grand strategy which may not be recognized as important by a more narrowly focused military which is more concerned about situations where soldiers may be deployed.
We can't expect this Strategic Support Branch (SSB) to achieve a high level of competence right away. Recruitment and training of clandestine agents takes years. Former head of the CIA's paramilitary division and former clandestine field agent Howard Hart estimates that it takes the CIA 6 to 7 years to train an agent for their clandestine service. Likely the DOD SSB will face shorter timelines for training if they can move special forces guys with foreign language and culture skills into spy jobs.
At that previous link Howard Hart made the point that the CIA has a hard time recruiting good people into their clandestine service. Another potential advantage of the DOD's creation of the SSB is that the SSB may be able to recruit from talent pools not as easily available to the CIA (notably all the people who think they might want to become soldiers).
A final argument for the SSB is that the military really needs a highly integrated intelligence collection capability with a faster interaction between the various components of organizations that collect and use intelligence. Time scales are shrinking. As John Boyd argued, decision-making cycles are accelerating. Big bureaucratic divisions between US agencies are unnatural left-overs from a previous era that are not appropriate for fighting a target that can be attacked only with a tight coupling between intelligence collection and military operations.
Whether a clandestine spy capability will be used wisely by the US Department of Defense in the long term is not so much a function of the capability as it is of the goals set by policy makers. We need the capability. Therefore even though I think the grand strategy of the Bush Administration toward terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and the Muslims is unsound I still think the creation of a clandestine service inside the DOD is a good idea.
Dr. John Caulfield thought it had to be a mistake when the Army asked him to return to active duty. After all, he's 70 years old and had already retired - twice. He left the Army in 1980 and private practice two years ago.
"My first reaction was disbelief," Caulfield said. "It never occurred to me that they would call a 70-year-old."
In fact, he was so sure it was an error that he ignored the postcards and telephone messages asking if he would be willing to volunteer for active duty to "backfill" somewhere on the East Coast, Europe or Hawaii. That would be OK, he thought. It would release active duty oral surgeons from those areas to go to combat zones in Iraq or Afghanistan.
But then the orders came for him to go to Afghanistan.
I admire and respect Dr. Caulfield for his willingness to serve again at his age. At the same time, what is striking about this story is that someone in the US Army actually thought to approach a 70 year old doctor who left the Army in 1980. Doesn't the Army sound a bit desperate for people? They just sent a 70 year old doctor to Bagram Afghanistan!
Thanks to TangoMan for the tip.