Bush Wants Plan for Covert Pentagon Role
By DOUGLAS JEHL
Published: November 23, 2004
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 22 - President Bush has ordered an interagency group to
devise a plan that could expand the Defense Department role in covert
operations that have traditionally been the specialty of the Central
Intelligence Agency, administration officials said Monday.
A presidential directive signed by Mr. Bush last week sets a 90-day
deadline for the review, whose main focus will be whether the military's
Special Operations forces should have a role in paramilitary operations
that a special C.I.A. unit carries out, the officials said.
With two other directives issued Nov. 18, Mr. Bush also ordered the
C.I.A. and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to report to him by
February on how they intended to improve their performance in the war on
terrorism, the officials said.
One directive calls on the intelligence agency to "fix ambitious targets
for recruiting, training and deploying operations officers and
analysts," as well as "rebuilding agency's core capabilities to collect
intelligence from human agents," a senior official said.
The moves, which the White House has not announced, reflect an
aggressive postelection effort by Mr. Bush and his senior national
security advisers to improve the performance of the military and
intelligence and law enforcement agencies in combating terrorism.
In part, the directives respond to recommendations by the independent
commission that investigated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. With bills
to turn those proposals into laws in doubt, Mr. Bush's steps to push
them may become more significant.
In a telephone interview, Thomas W. O'Connell, the assistant defense
secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict, said he had
assured his counterparts who oversee paramilitary operations at the
intelligence agency that "there is no preordained outcome" to the
"I have heard it said that there is a conspiracy within the Department
of Defense to go and rip off the agency's capabilities, and I can assure
you that nothing could be further from the truth," Mr. O'Connell said.
The idea of transferring paramilitary authority from the intelligence
agency to the Pentagon was among several fundamental changes that the
Sept. 11 panel proposed in the summer. In public testimony in August,
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and John E. McLaughlin, who was the
acting intelligence chief, expressed reservations about the idea, and
the recommendation was not included in the measures that Congress set
aside over the weekend.
Senior administration officials who spoke about the review came from
several agencies, each consulted while the directives were prepared.
They would not agree to speak publicly because of the secrecy that
cloaks most information about clandestine paramilitary and
Some officials said they believed that civilians in the Pentagon,
including the under secretary of defense for intelligence, Stephen A.
Cambone, had pressed for the interagency review as part of a quest for a
wider role for the Pentagon and the military services in intelligence
Special Operations forces and paramilitary units of the intelligence
agency already work together in some groups around the world, including
those dedicated to the search for Osama bin Laden and other leaders of
Al Qaeda. But only the intelligence agency paramilitary units, and not
Special Operations forces, are authorized to conduct the most sensitive
covert operations, under presidential directives known as findings. The
examples have included the operations in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11
attacks, when paramilitary units were the first American forces sent
The panel is to include representatives of the State and Justice
Departments, as well as of the Pentagon and the C.I.A., the officials
said. A senior administration official said the task of the group would
be "to see whether or not transferring paramilitary authorities in their
entirety from the C.I.A. to the Department of Defense would best serve
the nation or whether there are other ways to have paramilitary forces
work in better cooperation."
The separate directives on the intelligence agency and the F.B.I. laid
out an accelerated schedule for the leaders of those agencies to report
to the White House on their operations, including areas the Sept. 11
panel and Senate Intelligence Committee have sharply criticized in
For the bureau, the directive acknowledges that it has made significant
changes but orders it to produce in 90 days "a comprehensive plan with
performance measures including timelines for achievement of specific
measurable progress in analysis, products, sources, field intelligence
operations" and other activities that produce information for the
The new director of central intelligence, Porter J. Goss, has promised
to focus attention on improving his agency's core mission of
intelligence gathering. But early personnel moves by Mr. Goss and his
management team have stirred sharp dissent in the directorate of
operations, which includes paramilitary operations.
The recommendation by the Sept. 11 panel on paramilitary forces was one
of its farthest reaching. Its report called on the Defense Department to
take charge of "directing and executing paramilitary operations, whether
clandestine or covert," tasks that have routinely fallen within the
intelligence agency's domain.
In the years before Sept. 11, the intelligence agency "did not invest in
developing a robust capability" in this area but relied on proxy forces
organized by agency officers, the report said, with unsatisfactory
results. Rather than invest money and personnel in the intelligence
agency and the military for paramilitary counterterrorist operations,
the report said, "the United States should concentrate responsibility
and necessary legal authorities in one entity."
Under current directives, the military's Special Operations Command
already has the authority to organize, train and equip the elite
commando force and to plan and execute its missions against terrorists.
The Special Operations sector has many times more personnel and more
rigorous year-round training than the direct-action units at the C.I.A.
The military already routinely lends its Green Berets, Seals and Delta
Force members to the intelligence agency on request.
Some veteran members of Special Operations branches have responded
negatively to the Sept. 11 recommendation, saying that intelligence
agency officers operate under a different set of findings and carry
different legal protections than the military, in particular for cases
in which they are ordered to conduct the most extreme clandestine
Asked about the idea in testimony before the Senate Armed Services
Committee in August, Mr. Rumsfeld said that the idea was worth
reviewing, but that "at the moment I certainly wouldn't recommend it."
But he recently drafted a directive that instructed regional commanders
to create a plan for an expanded Pentagon role in intelligence
gathering. The directive, first reported last month in The Wall Street
Journal, suggested that the Pentagon should be more active in tracking
down terrorist and insurgent leaders.
David Johnston, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker contributed reporting from
Washington for this article.