The CIA has retained control over U.S. covert action paramilitary programs despite a commission recommendation that the Pentagon take the lead role in such programs, senior U.S. intelligence officials said yesterday.
All covert paramilitary programs will be part of a new National Clandestine Service (NCS) based at the CIA. Details of the new covert action and espionage service, combining the CIA, FBI and Pentagon human spying, were disclosed during a briefing at CIA headquarters.
Under the new system, an executive will be in charge of all covert action programs that range from secret political support abroad to large-scale paramilitary operations.
Clandestine human spying — which is more secret than covert action — will be coordinated in two other units of the new service.
The NCS will be led by a director, designated by CIA chief Porter J. Goss. In addition, the new office of the Director of National Intelligence will provide policy guidance to the NCS but will not direct its activities, two senior intelligence officials said.
The September 11 commission had recommended that all covert paramilitary operations be transferred out of CIA and given to the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Past covert actions included armed support to anti-Soviet rebels in Afghanistan and anti-communist rebels in Central America.
The commission’s report said that before the September 11 attacks, the “CIA did not invest in developing a robust capability to conduct paramilitary operations with U.S. personnel.” Instead the agency relied on “proxies,” which lacked military training, and “the results were unsatisfactory.”
The two senior officials who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity said control over covert action will remain with CIA.
“The bottom line is it was recommended back to the president that [covert action] stay where it is,” one of the officials said. “Paramilitary stays with the CIA. The capability that [special operations forces] has, stays with SOF.”
The official said problems arose because the CIA had authority but few capabilities and the military had great capabilities but little authority.
“The marriage between the two now makes us that much more effective,” the official said.
The NCS will take over the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, which had been in charge of governmentwide human-spying efforts but failed to work with other agencies.
The other main human-spy services involved in NCS are the FBI, which recently set up a National Security Branch dedicated to domestic spying, and the Pentagon’s human-intelligence gathering components.
The second senior intelligence official said the CIA is still banned from conducting spy operations against Americans.
The Directorate of Operations has come under fire for failures related to the September 11 attacks and to intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.