The Pentagon, expanding into the CIA's historic bailiwick, has created a new espionage arm and is reinterpreting U.S. law to give Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld broad authority over clandestine operations abroad, according to interviews with participants and documents obtained by The Washington Post.What is most un-nerving, at least for me, is that the Department of Defense is getting into the business of covert operations using people with "no official cover" (also known as NOCs).
The previously undisclosed organization, called the Strategic Support Branch, arose from Rumsfeld's written order to end his "near total dependence on CIA" for what is known as human intelligence. Designed to operate without detection and under the defense secretary's direct control, the Strategic Support Branch deploys small teams of case officers, linguists, interrogators and technical specialists alongside newly empowered special operations forces.
Military and civilian participants said in interviews that the new unit has been operating in secret for two years -- in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places they declined to name. According to an early planning memorandum to Rumsfeld from Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the focus of the intelligence initiative is on "emerging target countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Philippines and Georgia." Myers and his staff declined to be interviewed.
The Strategic Support Branch was created to provide Rumsfeld with independent tools for the "full spectrum of humint operations," according to an internal account of its origin and mission. Human intelligence operations, a term used in counterpoint to technical means such as satellite photography, range from interrogation of prisoners and scouting of targets in wartime to the peacetime recruitment of foreign spies. A recent Pentagon memo states that recruited agents may include "notorious figures" whose links to the U.S. government would be embarrassing if disclosed.
Four people with firsthand knowledge said defense personnel have already begun operating under "non-official cover" overseas, using false names and nationalities. Those missions, and others contemplated in the Pentagon, skirt the line between clandestine and covert operations. Under U.S. law, "clandestine" refers to actions that are meant to be undetected, and "covert" refers to those for which the U.S. government denies its responsibility. Covert action is subject to stricter legal requirements, including a written "finding" of necessity by the president and prompt notification of senior leaders of both parties in the House and Senate.My question: When Major Gooblotz or Sergeant Bumblefart, in a NOC status, get picked up by a foreign government, what are we going to to do? Frankly, I suspect a member of the military in a NOC status is against the Geneva Convention; a NOC is a spy, or, perhaps as we might define one from the other side, a terrorist.
And we're going to head down the slippery slope and continue to claim the high road? Ouch.