Spooks in Wolf’s Clothing

We’ve known for some time that the military was rolling out its new-and-improved HUMINT function, the Defense Clandestine Service. But this article–laying out the ambitious goals of the program–is all the more interesting given several events that transpired since the NCS announcement: specifically, the Benghazi attack and the Petraeus resignation.

Part of the logic behind the move, the article explains, is that CIA is already overstretched; this will allow CIA to task DIA resources with the collection driven by military, rather than policy, needs.

The project was triggered by a classified study by the director of national intelligence last year that concluded that key Pentagon intelligence priorities were falling into gaps created by the DIA’s heavy focus on battlefield issues and CIA’s extensive workload.

Over and over, the article suggests the CIA is so busy in part because of its involvement in the drone program.

Through its drone program, the CIA now accounts for a majority of lethal U.S. operations outside the Afghan war zone.


The CIA is increasingly overstretched. Obama administration officials have said they expect the agency’s drone campaign against al-Qaeda to continue for at least a decade more, even as the agency faces pressure to stay abreast of issues including turmoil across the Middle East. Meanwhile, the CIA hasn’t met ambitious goals set by former president George W. Bush to expand its own clandestine service.

If the drone program has sucked up CIA’s time, the agency doesn’t appear to be complaining about it. On the contrary, the recently-departed David Petraeus demanded more drones, not more resources for HUMINT.

The suggestion, then, is that CIA is too busy to collect HUMINT because it is so busy being a paramilitary organization. 

But look at the topics DIA is said to be focusing on.

Among the Pentagon’s top intelligence priorities, officials said, are Islamist militant groups in Africa, weapons transfers by North Korea and Iran, and military modernization underway in China.


The CIA doesn’t want to be looking for surface-to-air missiles in Libya” when it’s also under pressure to assess the opposition in Syria, said a former high-ranking U.S. military intelligence officer who worked closely with both spy services. Even in cases where their assignments overlap, the DIA is likely to be more focused than the CIA on military aspects — what U.S. commanders in Africa might ask about al-Qaeda in Mali, for example, rather than the broader questions raised by the White House. [my emphasis]

With the argument thus laid out, Greg Miller might well have said, “DIA needs the DCS to avoid another Benghazi.” After all, not only did CIA not have advance intelligence about an attack militants with ties to AQIM were planning (to say nothing of suspect loyalties among the militia we were relying on for security), but they didn’t have that intelligence because they were too busy trying to collect loose surface-to-air missiles in Libya. Precisely some of the jobs the article says DIA will now take over. CIA screwed up in Benghazi, and so now it is handing off its screw ups to DIA.

“Benghazi” may not have been the reason given for the DCS when it got rolled out in April, but clearly the folks who will have to convince Congress are using the Benghazi attack as a convenient excuse.

But what will happen to DCS given recent and potential future changes with the personalities involved?

U.S. officials said the changes for the DIA were enabled by a rare syncing of personalities and interests among top officials at the Pentagon and CIA, many of whom switched from one organization to the other to take their current jobs.


The DIA project has been spearheaded by Michael G. Vickers, the top intelligence official at the Pentagon and a veteran of the CIA.

Agreements on coordination were approved by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, a former CIA director, and retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who resigned abruptly as CIA chief last month over an extramarital affair.

As Petraeus diddled himself out of a job, it presented an opportunity for commentators to note that CIA can’t succeed as the paramilitary organization Petraeus pushed it to be. If the new CIA Director heeds this sound advice–and returns its focus to HUMINT–will there really be the need for DCS?

And what happens to the DCS if its god-father, Michael Vickers, takes over at CIA?

Meanwhile, will this Russian doll structure we’ve been using for covert ops–JSOC guys hiding inside CIA ops protected as covert operating outside the AUMF–survive the departure of Leon Panetta, who seems to have brought his covert halo with him when he moved from CIA to DOD?

All the dance partners are changing again, and it’s unclear whether the new partnerships will have the same goals as they currently do.

Ultimately, it seems the question will rest with Congress. While Miller suggests DCS will retain the limits (and benefits) of Title 10. Yet those sentences are none too convincing.

Unlike the CIA, the Pentagon’s spy agency is not authorized to conduct covert operations that go beyond intelligence gathering, such as drone strikes, political sabotage or arming militants.

But the DIA has long played a major role in assessing and identifying targets for the U.S. military, which in recent years has assembled a constellation of drone bases stretching from Afghanistan to East Africa.

The expansion of the agency’s clandestine role is likely to heighten concerns that it will be accompanied by an escalation in lethal strikes and other operations outside public view. Because of differences in legal authorities, the military isn’t subject to the same congressional notification requirements as the CIA, leading to potential oversight gaps.

U.S. officials said that the DIA’s realignment won’t hamper congressional scrutiny. “We have to keep congressional staffs and members in the loop,” [General Michael] Flynn said in October, adding that he believes the changes will help the United States anticipate threats and avoid being drawn more directly into what he predicted will be an “era of persistent conflict.”

Behind all that blurring of Title 10 and 50 is JSOC, the final doll in that Russian doll structure.

The DIA has also forged a much tighter relationship with JSOC, the military’s elite and highly lethal commando force, which also carries out drone strikes in Yemen and other countries.

And this comes as Admiral William McRaven renews his call for more autonomy and money for SOCOM, something for which there is more institutional opposition than there is to DCS.

Will Congress go along with this effort to hide the covert ops inside covert ops?

On its face, this article makes a very neat argument that DCS will help us avoid the next Benghazi. But underlying it, inside that Russian doll, appears to be an effort to continue picking and choosing between Title 10 and 50.

Update: As @CustosDivan noted, I made DIA’s effort to be the CIA even more real than this move already makes it–by erroneously calling the new organization, the Defense Clandestine Service, the National Clandestine Service, which is the CIA deal

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

15 replies
  1. Charles D says:

    You have to blame the Democrats. They forced Truman into the White House over Henry Wallace and thus gave us the Cold War, the CIA, and the guilt of having needlessly destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now they give us Obama who seems fascinated and power-mad with the bits of faux-leadership he is doled out by the intelligence agency masters.

  2. der says:

    Yes, yes….focus on the military aspects. The DIA looking for those surface-to-air missles hidden with the WMD’s this great warrior sent his lost platoon searching for 9 years ago:

    MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, weapons of mass destruction. Key goal of the military campaign is finding those weapons of mass destruction. None have been found yet. There was a raid on the Answar Al-Islam Camp up in the north last night. A lot of people expected to find ricin there. None was found. How big of a problem is that? And is it curious to you that given how much control U.S. and coalition forces now have in the country, they haven’t found any weapons of mass destruction?

    SEC. RUMSFELD: Not at all. If you think — let me take that, both pieces — the area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is substantial. It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.

    Second, the [audio glitch] facilities, there are dozens of them, it’s a large geographic area. It is the — Answar Al-Islam group has killed a lot of Kurds. They are tough. And our forces are currently in there with the Kurdish forces, cleaning the area out, tracking them down, killing them or capturing them and they will then begin the site exploitation. The idea, from your question, that you can attack that place and exploit it and find out what’s there in fifteen minutes.

    Clean the area out! Tracking them down…with WMD sniffing robots. Re-fighting the North African Campaign….righting Patton’s wrongs, liberating Tobruk along the way….Montgomery was a sand eating pussy with a bad plan based on lousy intelligence. Then on to the Western Desert!, that’s where the missiles are. Arrest the whistle blowers for treason! Julian Assange! Hitler!

    Genius, the best of our best…shoot me.

  3. x174 says:

    the militarization of all things amerikan was eloquently penned by the late Chalmers Johnson. add flashy new drone toys to this ‘merikun militarism, and you’ve got the recipe for video-gaming, push button global-techno war. just part of the evolution of hominins since the austrolopithecines first learned the value of a sharpened rock edge sometime during the Pliocene.

    by the way, nice compact revealing title: humint (intel) is now supplanted by planetary-wide surveillence and boys wile to be boys, and blow stuff up.

  4. Frank33 says:

    It is just another mercenary army to use for more False Flag Ops.

    Win the Phony Global War on Terror! And Slurp from the Pentagon Gravy Train!

    (thanks to Michael Hastings for the slurping phrase)

  5. Jim White says:

    I’m just getting too old and cynical. Before even reading the Post article in detail, I’m pretty sure that the moves by both CIA and JSOC are mainly aimed at avoiding oversight.

  6. miguel cervantes says:

    Actually, the Pentagon’s Irregular Warfare Working Group did, the administration just didn’t want to hear of it,

  7. Clark Hilldale says:

    A couple of times there, you are conflating in your usage the new DCS (DIA) with the older NCS (CIA).

  8. Ben Franklin says:

    Ostensibly, JFK was murdered because he wanted to break the CIA into ‘a million pieces’.
    Then we get NSA….now DIA. See how it works?

  9. marksb says:

    “Ultimately, it seems the question will rest with Congress.”

    Given the high level of intelligence and competence demonstrated in that august institution of late, I certainly feel better.

  10. leveymg says:

    Well, it was a bit inconvenient having the same agency charged with rounding up and destroying MANPADS in Libya also coordinating which Jihadi groups get to use them once these things reach Syria.

    Maybe if the DIA does the search and destroy work and CIA SAD can handle the distribution work . . . wait, doesn’t that kinda move in on the State Department’s turf in these matters? What was the State Dept. doing in Benghazi? And, who were all those other guys who showed up at the airport for extraction that night – what were they doing?

    Nah. Nobody needs to know about those details. Classified . . . mumble . . . mumble. Let’s release the outtakes in the Mohamed porn film, you know the part that got cut that starred General Petraeus and his mistress. That’ll tell the Senate everything they they need or ever wanted to know.

  11. Jeff Kaye says:

    @Jim White: Well, yes…

    “the military isn’t subject to the same congressional notification requirements as the CIA”

    As if the CIA’s notification requirements were ever really anything more than a bureaucratic bother.

  12. Frank33 says:

    Probably OT, but you never know about spies. A Big Shot SpyMaster is in New Zealand. Spymasters have their own $60 million dollar jets to flit around the world. Do they get mistresses same as P4?

    The purpose of the visit may or may not concern Kim Dotcom. The US Government has invested probably tens of millions of dollars to destroy this controversial internet businessman entrepreneur.

    After days of curiosity about the jet, which ONE News filmed on Friday, John Key has admitted it flew in a senior US spy to meet one of New Zealand’s intelligence agencies.

    But that is as much as the PM could remember.

    Well I have a broad idea that, why they were here. But I don’t know the individual’s name, I can’t recall it. It may be on a piece of paper somewhere but I can’t recall it,” Key told reporters at his post-Cabinet news conference this afternoon.

    Key previously could not recall when spies first briefed him on their interest in Kim Dotcom.

    Dotcom’s court prosecution has been a mess. He wants to start Megaupload2.0, and provide free high speed internet to everyone in New Zealand.

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