The Defense Department’s role in spying and other intelligence work is expanding, while the CIA is losing influence because of its recent embarrassments and its changing responsibilities in the Cold War’s wake, according to active and retired agency and Pentagon officials and congressional sources.
Pentagon agencies and officials are set to play a greater role than before in supervising key intelligence operations including interpreting spysatellite photos, and recruiting and handling secret agents overseas.
There’s even a proposal in Congress, backed by Senate intelligence committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., that would seem to have the effect of downgrading the importance of the CIA director. It would create a new, national intelligence director working out of the White House, and supervising deputies with equal ranks at the CIA and Pentagon.
Intelligence and congressional sources said CIA Director John M. Deutch has encouraged the shift of responsibilities to the Pentagon. Deutch was the Defense Department’s number-two official before reluctantly going to the CIA in May. His aides deny the claims that he is presiding over a decline in the CIA’s role vis-a-vis the Pentagon.
“This is immature, bureaucratic scorekeeping,” a senior intelligence official said. Noting that the CIA has broadened its targets to include terrorists, drug traffickers and nuclear-arms dealers, the official said, “The agency is now serving a fuller range of customers instead of just the White House” and its Cold War interest in the Soviet military.
Another senior CIA official said the concerns were “just paranoia” on the part of internal and external critics of Deutch and the current CIA leadership.
The shift has roots in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when there was criticism that timely intelligence was not provided to military commanders in the field. That led the Defense Department to beef up its own intelligence-gathering operations.
The trend gained momentum with the blow to the CIA’s credibility early last year from the revelation that CIA officer Aldrich H. Ames had spied for Moscow for nine years. The agency has suffered another blow in recent weeks from the disclosure that it failed to warn that highly sensitive Soviet and Russian military intelligence reports came from sources possibly controlled by the KGB.
Although the Defense Department has for years controlled 80 percent or more of the nation’s total annual intelligence budget of more than $28 billion, the CIA has traditionally been considered the major voice in intelligence matters.