The White House has requested that the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon study whether the Defense Department should take over CIA paramilitary operations, as recommended by the September 11 commission.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and then-acting CIA Director John McLaughlin rejected the idea when the commission issued its final report in the summer. President Bush’s request indicates that the administration wants to give the issue closer study.
“The president asked that we look at this to understand and address the specifics of this issue,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
Both Mr. Whitman and a U.S. official, who confirmed the study on the condition of anonymity, stressed that the work is being done collaboratively. The study is in the early stages.
The review comes as Congress has reached an apparent stalemate over other sweeping recommendations from the commission that investigated the September 11 attacks, including the creation of a post of national intelligence director.
Among its more than 40 recommendations, the commission urged the transfer of the CIA’s paramilitary operations to the Defense Department. The commissioners said having two organizations within the government to handle such operations was redundant.
Paramilitary operations can include a host of activities, such as training rebel forces, destabilizing governments and organizations through violence, and directly attacking enemy targets and individuals. The operations can be handled by CIA paramilitary teams or units out of the Pentagon, such as the Green Berets or Delta Force.
Pentagon and intelligence leaders have said CIA paramilitaries and military special operations forces each have distinct capabilities, but work well together.
Mr. McLaughlin said in the summer that he wouldn’t accept the commission’s recommendation. He since has been replaced by former Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican.
“I think we have a perfect marriage now of CIA and military capabilities. CIA brings to the mix agility and speed. Military brings lethality,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Mr. Rumsfeld, however, was less committed to the proposal initially, saying he is not sure the CIA’s control over paramilitary operations is a problem that needs fixing.
Some nibbling away at the CIA’s domain already is under way. Recent legislation would give the U.S. Special Operations Command up to $25 million to support “foreign forces, irregular forces, groups or individuals” that help U.S. efforts against terrorists and other enemies. Such aid — which could mean cash, weapons or other assistance to often shadowy groups or figures — traditionally has been handled by the CIA.
Mr. Bush signed the measure into law last month.