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Secret Unit Expands Rumsfeld's Domain, Report Says
By America Online
WASHINGTON (Jan. 23) - The U.S. Defense Department has created a new espionage arm and is reinterpreting U.S. law to give Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wide authority over spy operations abroad, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
Citing Pentagon documents and interviews with participants, the newspaper said Rumsfeld created the organization, called the Strategic Support Branch, to end "near total dependence" on the Central Intelligence Agency for human intelligence.
In response, Defense Department spokesman Lawrence DiRita said in a statement posted on the Pentagon's Web site: "There is no unit that is directly reportable to the Secretary of Defense for clandestine operations as is described in the Washington Post article..."
"Further, the Department is not attempting to 'bend' statutes to fit desired activities, as is suggested in this article," DiRita said.
The Strategic Support Branch, which has been operating for two years, deploys teams of case officers, linguists, interrogators and technical specialists with special operations forces, according to the Washington Post.
It has operated in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other undisclosed locations, the newspaper reported. The group's focus, according to an early planning document, was on Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Philippines and Georgia, the Post said.
Quoting a Defense Department memo, the newspaper said the Pentagon may recruit foreign spies that include "notorious figures" whose links to the U.S. government would be embarrassing if disclosed.
The newspaper said the Defense Department's espionage activities include missions in both friendly and unfriendly states when conventional war may be distant or unlikely. Those activities traditionally fall to the CIA's Directorate of Operations, the Washington Post said.
The Strategic Support Branch was established with "reprogrammed" funds and without explicit authority from the U.S. Congress, the newspaper reported, quoting unnamed Pentagon officials.
Rumsfeld's efforts are aimed at giving combat forces more information about their immediate enemy and to penetrate organizations such as al-Qaida, the newspaper reported.
The Post said the defense secretary also is seeking greater independence as intelligence departments and agencies are placed under a newly created position of national intelligence director, an office approved by Congress last year.
The Washington Post said Lt. Gen. William Boykin, deputy undersecretary for intelligence, acknowledged Rumsfeld intends to direct some missions previously undertaken by the CIA.
The newspaper also quoted Assistant Defense Secretary Thomas O'Connell, who oversees special operations policy, as saying Rumsfeld discarded the "hidebound way of thinking" and "risk-averse mentalities" of previous Pentagon officials.
DiRita said in the statement said it should not be surprising that the Department of Defense was trying to improve its human intelligence capability, citing a key conclusion of the 9-11 Commission report calling for such improvements.
"The department remains in regular consultation with the relevant committees in Congress and with other agencies withing the intelligence community, including the CIA.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during a press conference
01-23-05 12:07 EST