Multiple intelligence shell game

Fascination has been developing about The Washington Post's report on Sunday that US Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld had established secret intelligence units ("strategic support teams") independent of the CIA, charged with carrying out clandestine operations. After denying the story, the Defense Department confirmed the existence of these units today.

What seems to be at stake here is not that new things are being done, but that they are being done by a different agency. There are probably two main reasons for the Defense department to want to take over this type of job from the CIA: first to avoid oversight, and second because Bush administration officials have been unhappy with the CIA failing to tell them the things they want to hear.

Another motivation seems to be for the Defense department to exercise greater control over "human intelligence," which would include interrogations. Considering the growing evidence about the way Defense has been conducting interrogations at such places as Iraq and Guantánamo, the desire to avoid oversight is understandable. Destructive and doomed to failure, but understandable.

Update: Thanks to TK for this interesting detail. Tom Gjelten of National Public Radio reports that "This has not been reported, but already these special teams have been on assignment in Bosnia working closely with the CIA and with special operations forces. In Bosnia, the mission has been to go after Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the two Serb leaders who have been at large for such a long time. And this is one of the countries where these teams are already operating." The audio of the report is available from NPR.

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