The Pentagon is a few letters away from establishing — formally — its own corps of clandestine operatives. And Defense News readers have some thoughts on the matter.
On Wednesday, we published an analysis piece that lines up new evidence that shows the Pentagon’s proposed Defense Clandestine Service essentially is a done deal. Senior defense officials simply need to “certify” to Congress this and that, and submit to lawmakers some metrics for some other things. The Pentagon does those kinds of things every day. Done. Deal.
Our piece noted there was no real substantive public debate about creating a mini-military CIA. It also lightly questioned whether a cadre of military spies that conducts espionage for the country’s defense secretary and top generals is a good idea for a free society.
A few readers used their snow day on Thursday to fire back.
One “much enjoyed your article” — thank you, sir — and noted military intel officers are nothing new, and these individuals frequently leave military intel jobs for the CIA. The same reader said DCS is a good idea for “maintaining within the military the knowledge and experience” of military members who “see intelligence as their personal calling … [is] another very good, valid reason the DCS isn’t going anywhere.”
That’s a fair point. But, again, the nation has a civilian intelligence service for a reason.
A second reader zeroed in on your correspondent’s remark in the comments section of the piece: “But shouldn’t we, as citizens, get a real public debate? We already have the CIA…”
“In areas of foreign intelligence and espionage, which is precisely what we’re talking about, I think that even your article demonstrates that there is some measured public debate, and its results are most clearly heard and felt where they belong, in the halls of Congress, where elected representatives can debate and decide, if necessary after hearing secrets and keeping them,” the second reader wrote. “That seems like a defensible system.”
On the latter point, it’s the system we have and it’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Your correspondent checked all Pentagon-related transcripts compiled since Jan. 1, 2013 by our friends at CQ. The DCS was mentioned in just over 20 congressional hearings in that 13-month span. And, in most cases, it was mentioned in a question or two that resulted in about a four or five minute back-and-forth with a Pentagon official.
While it is a good thing that lawmakers asked about such an important issue in two dozen settings is a good thing. But, after reviewing the transcripts, it’s pretty clear DCS was merely one question on a list of three of four prepared by the members’ staffers.
Those two emailers, and others, seemed to share a common belief: If the military wants it, the military should get it. After 13 years of stalemate in Iraq and Afghanistan, your correspondent disagrees — some tougher standards seem needed here before military 007s are deployed across the globe to gather intelligence that might not go up the usual — civilian — chain that has been the basis of American intelligence operations for decades and decades.
Finally, the last email that landed in your correspondent’s inbox about DCS came from a former US intelligence official, who said “anyone trying to turn active duty people into spies is a moron.”
This e-mailer believes the “CIA brought this on themselves by being irresponsible in refusing to meet DoD needs. Plenty of defense reporters and analysts have heard these stories since 2001, tales of tension in the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters.
The third e-mailer bluntly declared “DoD has no clue how to ‘do’ intelligence, in part because no one is serious about understanding all of the threats.” He also made a comment that should worry us all, saying it’s possible DCS merely will become “what the contractors want to build.”
Kudos to all those who reached out. Thoughtful points, all. And, alarmingly, more of a substantive debate than was carried out in opaque congressional hearing rooms.
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