Congress is set to impose new restrictions on the use of Special Operations Forces that for the first time will require a presidential order before deploying commandos in routine but hidden activities.
The restrictions are contained in the classified Senate report accompanying the current version of the intelligence authorization bill for fiscal 2004.
The restrictions were added to the report by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee after consultations with Stephen Cambone, the defense undersecretary for intelligence, according to current and former U.S. officials and documents obtained by The Washington Times.
The new rules, if contained in the final version of the bill, would add a burden to the military’s deployment of Special Operations Forces by requiring the Pentagon to first obtain a presidential “finding,” or directive, similar to those required for covert-action intelligence operations.
Findings are declarations that the president “finds” a secret activity is in national interest.
A former special-operations officer said the committee language would redefine traditional military activity as a covert action.
“What that means is that things that special ops used to do will now require sending a finding to [Capitol Hill] before doing anything,” said the former officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The restrictions are being called the “Cambone understanding” and would replace earlier intelligence report language from 1991 that excluded Special Operations Forces from the legal finding requirements.
Currently, so-called traditional military activities, where the U.S. military’s role is hidden, do not require a finding by the president.
“We want to be able to deploy [special-operations commandos] in minutes and hours instead of days and weeks,” said the former special-operations officer. “And this will get us delays. It will make it hard to kill terrorists by turning over deployment decisions to the Senate.”
A senior U.S. intelligence official said the new report language undermines the efforts of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and CIA Director George J. Tenet to loosen restrictions on covert action in the war on terrorism since the September 11 attacks.
The senior official said the report language was inserted based on misunderstandings that resulted from conversations between Mr. Cambone and several senators, who were not identified.
“This hurts both CIA and [the Department of Defense],” the official said.
A spokesman for the Senate Intelligence Committee had no comment.View Entire Story
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