White House Is Said to Reject Panel's Call for a Greater Pentagon Role in
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By DOUGLAS JEHL
Published: June 28, 2005
WASHINGTON, June 27 - The White House has decided to reject classified
recommendations by a presidential commission that would have given the
Pentagon greater authority to conduct covert action, senior government
officials said Monday.
The decision is a victory for the Central Intelligence Agency, which has
long been the principal architect and instrument of the secretive
operations. The agency has been struggling to retain its authority in the
power structure headed by John D. Negroponte, the new director of national
intelligence, especially as the Pentagon has pressed for a greater role in
The White House will also designate the C.I.A. as the main manager of the
government's human spying operations, even those conducted by the Pentagon
and the F.B.I., the officials said.
The decisions are part of a detailed White House response, expected to be
announced later this week, to the 74 recommendations issued in March by the
commission, headed by Lawrence Silberman and Charles Robb, that examined the
role of intelligence agencies in detecting and countering the international
spread of illicit weapons. The plan for covert action was the only major
recommendation explicitly rejected by a White House team headed by Fran
Townsend, the president's homeland security adviser, the officials said.
The decision marks the second time in a year that the White House has
rejected a high-level recommendation to transfer some C.I.A. powers to the
Pentagon. The Sept. 11 commission recommended that the agency's special
paramilitary unit be transferred to the Pentagon, but the White House
decided in November to maintain that capacity at the C.I.A., while also
moving to strengthen the Pentagon's paramilitary capacities.
Under Mr. Negroponte, who took office in April as part of the biggest
intelligence overhaul in four decades, the C.I.A. no longer has the
pre-eminence it commanded for decades. The director of central intelligence,
Porter J. Goss, no longer regularly attends either the daily morning
briefings for President Bush or regular meetings of Mr. Bush's principal
foreign policy advisers.
But in addressing the commission's recommendations, the White House appears
to have decided to maintain the C.I.A.'s predominance in both covert action
and human spying, the areas in which the agency has most rigorously defended
Under law, covert actions may be carried out only with presidential
authorization and Congressional notification, and those operations are
devised so that American government involvement is disguised and meant never
to be acknowledged.
In its report, the commission said covert action "may play an increasingly
important role" as the United States steps up efforts to counter terrorism
and the spread of illicit weapons, because it can serve as "a more subtle
and surgical tool" than diplomacy or the use of military force.
Its recommendations about covert action were deleted from the public version
of the 601-page report, but senior government officials said they would have
allowed the Pentagon a larger role in carrying out intelligence,
reconnaissance or sabotage missions more secretive than the operations
already carried out by American Special Operations forces, which are defined
as clandestine - a shade less secret than covert.
The commission's recommendation, the government officials said, was based on
a conclusion that military forces were often better trained and equipped
than the C.I.A. to carry out missions that might be a part of a covert
action. But the officials said they believed that the White House had
concluded it would be preferable to leave covert action in the hands of the
agency, to maintain a sharp legal and operational distinction between its
paramilitary operations and those carried out by the military.
Both the Pentagon and the F.B.I. have moved in recent months to assert a
greater role in spying operations, particularly those related to terrorism
and weapons proliferation. The C.I.A. has retained overall authority over
such operations, but with Mr. Goss now reporting to Mr. Negroponte, some
agency officials had feared that Mr. Negroponte's office might also assert
its right to coordinate human spying operations and that the Pentagon might
demand a co-equal role in covert action.
Spokesmen for the C.I.A., the White House and the Pentagon all declined to
comment on the White House decisions. The senior government officials who
described them came from several different agencies, but insisted on
anonymity because the commission's recommendation on covert action remains
classified, and because the other decisions have yet to be announced.
Among the dozens of commission recommendations to be endorsed by the White
House, the officials said, are one calling for the establishment of a
National Nonproliferation Center, to manage actions to combat the spread of
illicit weapons. As a small coordination unit, the new center will join the
National Counterterrorism Center in reporting directly to Mr. Negroponte.
Another recommendation had called for the creation of a new human
intelligence directorate at the C.I.A. to encourage new approaches to human
spying operations. But action on that measure is to be postponed until
further review by the agency, a plan it welcomes. Officials there had been
concerned that such a step would undermine the existing directorate of
operations, which oversees the agency's clandestine networks of case
officers and spies.
An additional recommendation has already led to the drafting of an executive
order that would allow the Treasury Department to penalize companies that do
business related to the weapons programs in North Korea, Iran or Syria,
administration officials said Monday. The draft order, they added, would
give the Treasury Department the authority to pursue and freeze the
offending companies' assets, in the United States or abroad.
The new responsibility is similar to the authority the Treasury Department
was given after the Sept. 11 attacks to seize the assets of companies and
other organizations that are believed to have aided terrorists. The
existence of the draft executive order was first reported in The Wall Street
Journal on Thursday.
Joel Brinkley contributed reporting for this article.