By David S. Cloud, Tribune Washington Bureau –
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is beefing up its spy service to send several hundred undercover intelligence officers to overseas hot spots to steal secrets on national security threats after a decade of focusing chiefly on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The move comes amid concerns that the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s spy service, needs to expand operations beyond the war zones and to work more closely with the CIA, according to a senior Defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the classified program.
The new Defense Clandestine Service will comprise about 15 percent of the DIA’s workforce. It will focus on gathering intelligence on terrorist networks, nuclear proliferators and other highly sensitive threats around the world, rather than just gleaning tactical information to assist military commanders on the battlefield, the official said.
“You have to do global coverage,” the official said.
Some of the new spies thus are likely to be assigned to targets that now are intelligence priorities, including parts of Africa and the Middle East where al-Qaida and its affiliates are active, the nuclear and missile programs in North Korea and Iran, and China’s expanding military.
The initiative, which Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta approved last Friday, aims to boost the Pentagon’s role in human intelligence collection, and to assign more case officers and analysts around the globe. The CIA has dominated that mission for decades, and the two agencies have long squabbled over their respective roles.
An internal study by the director of National Intelligence last year concluded that the DIA needed to expand its traditional role and should gather and disseminate more information on global issues. It also found that the DIA did not promote or reward successful case officers, and that many often left for the CIA as a result.