WASHINGTON – Reports this week that Congress is trying to restrict U.S. military special operations in a move that may thwart Washington's efforts to sneak up on terrorists around the world and nab them are "dead wrong," sources told Foxnews.com.
The Washington Times reported this week that a classified report attached to the Senate intelligence authorization bill for fiscal year 2004 states a presidential order would be required before the military's special operations forces are deployed on routine but secret operations. This approval is currently needed for covert intelligence operations carried out by the CIA.
But "there are no new restrictions, no new rules, no new guidelines, no new interpretations — whether it be special operations, covert activities, nothing like that," Senate Select Intelligence Committee spokesman Bill Duhnke told Foxnews.com. "Some individual has chosen to read the language and chose in a selective way to leak it."
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said of the Times story: "I'm told that it's not accurate … we do not believe there is a constraint that's operative at the present time."
Rumsfeld said that in the current security environment special operations forces "have been utilized to a much greater extent than previously, and undoubtedly, will be prospectively."
Rumsfeld said the Senate Armed Services Committee "seems not to think it's a problem," even though the language in question allegedly appeared in the Intelligence Committee's report and not that of Armed Services.
"I certainly hope that's the case," Rumsfeld said.
Both Armed Services and Select Intelligence committees have jurisdiction over the U.S. military. The Defense Department fiscal year 2004 spending bill is headed to a House-Senate conference.
Senior Pentagon officials had told Fox News that language was included after senators misunderstood a briefing from Stephen Cambone, defense undersecretary for intelligence.
"This has no chance in hell getting past September," when Congress returns from recess, one senior defense official told Fox News. "This is about a territory battle between the Senate Intelligence and Senate Armed Services Committee."
Added a senior defense official: "The war on terrorism requires more flexibility, not less … and Congress knows that."
Even the prospect of restricting SOFs raised some eyebrows.
"It's a terrible example … of politics being played with your safety and mine," said Fox News military analyst Col. David Hunt. "This is a way people try to stop the momentum we need."
But others said presidential oversight of special operations will insure that the military and commander-in-chief are in sync on clandestine activities.
"That's basically a paper trail so the commander doesn’t get hung out to dry if he gets caught," said GlobalSecurity.org founder John Pike. "If the thing fouls up, the president can't say 'What idiot authorized this?'"
SOFs are small units focused on strategic or operational — often politically sensitive — missions and include the Army, Navy and Air Force.
"It would clearly not be helpful for additional — any kind of additional restrictions to be placed on the ability to engage in the global war on terrorism," Larry DiRita, acting secretary of defense for public affairs, said Thursday. "We clearly need the kinds of flexibilities that we've seen in use in Afghanistan, in Iraq, to be able to be agile and quick and capable of sort of short-notice targeting of enemy activities."
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, President Bush gave the CIA wide-ranging authority to conduct secret operations. Rumsfeld boosted SOF forces to cover territory CIA operatives couldn't fill.
"The holdback in using special operations soldiers was the lack of political guts to send them on the missions," Sgt. Maj. Eric Haney, founding member of Delta Force, told Foxnews.com. "After Sept. 11, the guts were there — that's the difference."
In Afghanistan, SOF assaulted targets associated with terrorist activity and the Taliban, confiscated huge caches of weapons and ammunition, scoped out landing zones and helped round up Al Qaeda.
SOFs were in Iraq at least one month before the war actually started, laying the groundwork for future military action. They sought out potential regime defectors, established relations with opposition groups, set up coalition airstrips and sealed off roads to prevent regime members from fleeing.
Haney said having the president sign off on more special ops isn't a bad idea.
"All it takes is one person without the best of intentions somewhere in the political hierarchy to send them on a rogue mission and nobody knows about it," Haney said, pointing to the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s as a prime example of too many CIA rogue operations gone bad. Congress changed the oversight process for overseas covert operations after Iran-Contra blew up.
And with the world eying the United States' efforts to track down terrorists around the world, Pike said Washington might need to cover its tracks now more than ever.
"A lot of these things are dangerous, a lot of them could be potentially embarrassing if they're exposed — a lot of these things sound a lot better in the movies than they turn out to be in real life," Pike added. "Nobody in their right mind is going to pull a stunt like this unless the whole chain of command signed off on it."
Fox News' Bret Baier contributed to this report.