The Pentagon has increased programs to recruit spies, both in the United States and abroad, as part of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's push to penetrate and destroy Islamist terror cells.
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has increased its work force, including agents who recruit spies, from 6,500 to 7,500 since the September 11 attacks. DIA wants Congress to relax a rule on recruiting U.S. citizens as spies so it can burrow even deeper inside the enemy.
"We believe there are potential sources of information in this country we are not tapping right now," Jim Schmidli, deputy DIA general counsel for operations, said in an interview. "We think there is a potential well of information here."
Outside the DIA, Mr. Rumsfeld has empowered U.S. Special Operations Command to use warriors in more spying missions. Socom has added training programs to better teach commandos how to recruit sources and how to track suspected al Qaeda operatives around the world.
Mr. Rumsfeld established the first-ever undersecretary of defense for intelligence. The new undersecretary then created the Defense HUMINT Management Office at DIA to train case officers and coordinate dissemination of what the spy culture considers its crown jewels -- trusted human sources burrowed inside the enemy. HUMINT is short for human intelligence.
The Pentagon's move to recruit more spies is receiving a bipartisan endorsement from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which has the power to veto Mr. Rumsfeld's spy policies.
"The committee supports the creation of the Defense HUMINT Management Office as a means of executing [Pentagon] objectives," the committee said in its fiscal 2006 legislation authorizing intelligence programs. "The military services have been authorized to rebuild their HUMINT capabilities."
The panel also delivered a plum the DIA has been seeking for two years. Under the 1974 U.S. Privacy Act, military intelligence officers must disclose who they are when trying to recruit a U.S. citizen, or permanent resident alien, to spy on an enemy. The FBI and CIA have no such restriction. The committee has endorsed giving the same exemption to the DIA. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is expected to go along when the 2006 bill reaches a conference.
George Peirce, the DIA's general counsel, said approaching a potential source under the cover of another identity is sometimes the only way to assess a person's value and to protect the operation's secrecy. Also, he said, immediately disclosing that you are a DIA agent can have a chilling effect on the approached person.
"The framers of the Privacy Act did not envision that its notification requirement would be used to frustrate the legitimate efforts of military officers to collect information from citizens voluntarily in order to protect our nation and its armed forces," Mr. Peirce said.
The DIA is particularly interested in persons who can provide information on another country's arsenal. It wants informants on the group al Qaeda in Iraq and on the terrorist-run industry that is producing scores of deadly improvised explosive devices.