The Senate Armed Services Committee wants to block a major effort by the Pentagon to expand the Defense Intelligence Agency's human spying operations.
A provision in the Senate's version of fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill would prohibit the DIA from using any funds to launch the ambitious human spying expansion program.
A committee report on the provision states that the agency's efforts to beef up spying were based on "longstanding problems."
"These problems include inefficient utilization of personnel trained at significant expense to conduct clandestine HUMINT [human intelligence]; poor or non-existent career management for trained HUMINT personnel; cover challenges; and unproductive deployment locations," the report said.
"Multiple studies since the end of the Cold War document these deficiencies, and they led the Commission on the Roles and Capabilities of the United States Intelligence Community, chaired by two former secretaries of defense, to recommend transferring to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) all responsibilities for the clandestine recruitment of human sources, utilizing military personnel on detail from the DOD [Department of Defense] as necessary."
The criticism of DIA's human spying is a rare public acknowledgment of problems at the agency.
During the George W. Bush administration, the number of CIA case officers increased by 50 percent, and, since the Sept. 11 attacks Pentagon, spies have increased "substantially," the report said.
"The committee is concerned that, despite this expansion and the winding down of two overseas conflicts that required large HUMINT resources, DOD believes that its needs are not being met," the report said.
The reference to the winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raises the question of whether Congress is seeking to block an increased effort to spy on China, as part of the Obama administration's pivot to Asia.
"The committee concludes that DOD needs to demonstrate that it can improve the management of clandestine HUMINT before undertaking any further expansion," the report said.
The Senate also suggested that DIA, by using current resources more effectively, could cut its investments in human spying, rather than planning for them to remain steady or increase, as part of Pentagon budget and personnel "challenges," an apparent reference to budget-cutting efforts under way.
The legislation, if passed in its current form, would cap DIA human spying to the number of operatives as of April.
The bill also would require two reports to Congress — one from the office of cost assessment and program evaluation and the office of undersecretary of defense for intelligence — on DIA's human spying programs.
Asked about the provision, DIA spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas F. Veale told Inside the Ring: "We continue to work with our oversight committees."
Space drone launched
And speaking of China's military, the Pentagon on Wednesday circulated video of the launch the once highly classified Air Force space plane called the X-37B.
The Pentagon considers the unmanned reusable orbiting drone as one of the military's most advanced future weapons platforms.
Initially identified as an "orbiting test vehicle," a Pentagon video presenter Wednesday for the first time referred to the X-37B as a "research missile."
In its third test launch, the unmanned X-37B lifted off on a rocket booster Monday from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The Air Force said the X-37B is "an affordable, reusable space vehicle." It is scheduled to be in orbit for nine months.
The Air Force did not elaborate on the future missions of the craft.
Among the technologies being tested are advanced guidance, navigation-and-control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high-temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry and landing.
Defense officials have said the X-37B is a key future weapon system for the U.S. military's new Air Sea Battle Concept, which calls for weapons and capabilities that could quickly defeat China's miltary in a conflict.
The X-37B could be armed with space-to-ground missiles that could quickly attack China's emerging high-technology weapons and capabilities, including cyberwarfare capabilities, a new aircraft carrier-killing anti-ship ballistic missile, and — most worrying — China's direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles that could cripple the U.S. military's global communications and targeting capabilities.
An X-37B armed with missiles is expected to be a major deterrent to these weapons — what the Pentagon calls anti-access and area denial weapons.
Call to Block Russian arms
Sen. John Cornyn this week led a bipartisan effort to keep an amendment to the current defense bill that would block the Pentagon from doing business with Russia's state arms exporter, called Rosoboronoexport.
In a letter to senior House and Senate armed services panel leaders, the Texas Republican and eight GOP senators and a group of eight House Democrats and Republicans urged keeping the ban in the legislation, which is now in a House-Senate conference.
They denounced the Russian firm for "arming the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria," where an estimated 40,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the outbreak of the March 2011 uprising against Mr. Assad.
Russia remains the largest supplier of arms to the Syrian regime. Moscow sold nearly $1 billion worth of arms to Syria in 2011, and Rosoboronexport handled about 80 percent of all arms exports.
The Pentagon has refused to end its business dealings with Rosoboronexport. In an apparent effort to please Moscow as part of President Obama's conciliatory reset policy, the Pentagon blocked private contractors from buying Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters needed for the Afghan military and caved to Russian pressure to buy the arms through Rosoboronexport, despite higher costs and delivery delays.
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