Rolling Back Pentagon Spies
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is considering a plan to curtail the Pentagon's clandestine spying activities, which were expanded by his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, after the 9/11 attacks. The undercover work allowed military personnel to collect intelligence about terrorists and to recruit spies in foreign countries independently of the CIA and without much congressional oversight.The Strategic Support Branch was Dick Cheney's very own rouge intelligence unit which was responsible for much of the bad intelligence and misinformation that led us to war in Iraq. It produced "designer intelligence" designed to fit Cheney's policy and ideology.
Former military and intelligence officials, including those involved in an ongoing and largely informal debate about the military's forays into espionage, said that Gates, a former CIA director, is likely to "roll back" several of Rumsfeld's controversial initiatives. This could include changing the mission of the Pentagon's Strategic Support Branch, an intelligence-gathering unit comprising Special Forces, military linguists, and interrogators that Rumsfeld set up to report directly to him. The unit's teams work in many of the same countries where CIA case officers are trying to recruit spies, and the military and civilian sides have clashed as a result. CIA officers serving abroad have been roiled by what they see as the Pentagon's encroachment on their dominance in the world of human intelligence-gathering.
A former senior intelligence official who knows Gates said that the secretary wants to "dismantle" many of the intelligence programs launched by Rumsfeld and his top lieutenants, Stephen Cambone, the former undersecretary for intelligence, and Douglas Feith, who was Rumsfeld's policy chief. The former official added that the Defense Intelligence Agency, which has also expanded its human spying efforts, could be returned to a more analytical role.
The official noted that Gates doesn't intend to eliminate the Strategic Support Branch but said that its mandate will change. The unit arose from a written order by Rumsfeld to end the "near total dependence on CIA" for intelligence-gathering, and agency officials viewed it as a competitor.
As Steve Clemmons says:
Many are still trying to assess what kind of impact Bob Gates will have on America's wrong-headed military course -- and whether he will be able to bring some maturity and realism to a White House decision-making that has been dominated by Vice President Cheney and his followers.
I think that this is a subtle but important first step in changing the "structural dimensions" of Cheney's influence.