An Intelligent Move by Defense Secretary Robert Gates


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Defense Secretary Robert Gates has told a number of senior national security officials — current and former — that he is shutting down (or at least significantly shrinking) the Rumsfeld-Cambone-Feith-Boykin intelligence operation.
Rumsfeld encouraged a massive expansion of the Department of Defense’s intelligence operations just at the time that the 9/11 Commission, Congressional enabling legislation, and the White House had worked together to reorganize the vast bulk of America’s intelligence machine under the Director of National Intelligence — who was then John Negroponte.
Rumsfeld’s colonization of much of the intelligence operations of government was in direct defiance of the legal operational and budgetary authority that the DNI position theoretically held.
Gates’ move is a sign that he is making what are possibly an important set of moves to try and get the government’s national security decision-making process back in better shape. DoD’s misbehavior in intelligence has generated constant battles and significant mistrust among key players in defense policy.
As this writer has reported before, there was significant rivalry between Rumsfeld and Cambone on one side and then Deputy DNI Michael Hayden and DNI John Negroponte on another. Gates’ intentions on getting his operations back under the operational management of current DNI Mike McConnell shows that this institutional rivalry is mostly over.
More important though was that the Rumsfeld-Cambone-Feith-Boykin intel machine included the staff of Vice President Cheney who were key beneficiaries of intel activities and information passed on to the Vice President’s Office by DoD. Instructions also flowed from Cheney’s office to DoD regarding intelligence initiatives and work that should be done. This entire interaction existed beyond what was legally prescribed and appropriate between the White House and this subcabinet intelligence activity controlled by Rumsfeld and his minions.
Bob Gates is about to shut down a signficant chunk of Vice President Cheney’s intelligence eyes and ears — and to some degree, an inappropriate ability to help drive covert actions.
National Journal‘s Shane Harris has a great article on this out today:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is considering a plan to curtail the Pentagon’s clandestine spying activities, which were expanded by his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, after the 9/11 attacks. The undercover work allowed military personnel to collect intelligence about terrorists and to recruit spies in foreign countries independently of the CIA and without much congressional oversight.
Former military and intelligence officials, including those involved in an ongoing and largely informal debate about the military’s forays into espionage, said that Gates, a former CIA director, is likely to “roll back” several of Rumsfeld’s controversial initiatives. This could include changing the mission of the Pentagon’s Strategic Support Branch, an intelligence-gathering unit comprising Special Forces, military linguists, and interrogators that Rumsfeld set up to report directly to him. The unit’s teams work in many of the same countries where CIA case officers are trying to recruit spies, and the military and civilian sides have clashed as a result. CIA officers serving abroad have been roiled by what they see as the Pentagon’s encroachment on their dominance in the world of human intelligence-gathering.
A former senior intelligence official who knows Gates said that the secretary wants to “dismantle” many of the intelligence programs launched by Rumsfeld and his top lieutenants, Stephen Cambone, the former undersecretary for intelligence, and Douglas Feith, who was Rumsfeld’s policy chief. The former official added that the Defense Intelligence Agency, which has also expanded its human spying efforts, could be returned to a more analytical role.

Many are still trying to assess what kind of impact Bob Gates will have on America’s wrong-headed military course — and whether he will be able to bring some maturity and realism to a White House decision-making that has been dominated by Vice President Cheney and his followers.
I think that this is a subtle but important first step in changing the “structural dimensions” of Cheney’s influence.

— Steve Clemons


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