WASHINGTON – The Pentagon is reorganizing its clandestine spy operation, sending more of its case officers to work alongside CIA officers to gather intelligence in places like China, after a decade of focusing intensely on war zones.
Several hundred case officers will make up the new Defense Clandestine Service. Drawn from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the officers will be sent to beef up U.S. intelligence teams in areas that are now receiving more attention. Those include Africa, where Al Qaeda is increasingly active, to parts of Asia where the North Korean missile threat and Chinese military expansion are causing increasing U.S. concern.
The new effort was described by a senior defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the classified program.
Defense Department case officers already secretly gather intelligence across the globe on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and other issues, mostly working out of CIA stations in embassies and operating undercover like their CIA counterparts.
But an internal study by the Director of National Intelligence last year found the agency still focused more on its traditional mission of providing the military with intelligence in war zones, and less on what's called "national" intelligence -- gathering and disseminating information on global issues and sharing that intelligence with other national security agencies, the official said.
The study also found that the Pentagon did not always reward clandestine service overseas with promotions, so its most experienced case officers often left for the CIA, or switched to other career paths within the Pentagon.
The new service is intended to curb personnel losses, making clandestine work part of the Pentagon's professional career track and rewarding those who prove successful at operating covertly overseas with further tours and promotions, like their CIA colleagues.
The case officers in the field -- some military and some civilian -- will answer directly to the top intelligence representative in their post, usually the CIA's chief of station, in addition to serving their agency back home. The arrangement is likely to curb complaints seen in earlier expansions of the Defense Department's spy mission, which the CIA and other agencies saw as the military stepping on their territory.
The changes were worked out by the top Pentagon intelligence official, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, and his CIA counterpart who heads the National Clandestine Service, and communicated to Congress before Defense Secretary Leon Panetta approved the new program Friday.