The Pentagon is planning to ramp up its spying operations against high-priority targets such as Iran under an intelligence reorganization approved last week by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, a senior defense official said Monday.
The defense official said the plan was developed in response to a classified study completed last year by the director of national intelligence that concluded that the military’s espionage efforts needed to be more focused on major targets outside war zones.
The new service will seek to “make sure officers are in the right locations to pursue those requirements,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss what he described as a “realignment” of the military’s human espionage efforts.
The official declined to provide details on where such shifts might occur, but the nation’s most pressing intelligence priorities in recent years have included counterterrorism, nonproliferation and ascendant powers such as China.
The realignment is expected to affect several hundred military operatives who already work in spying assignments abroad, mostly as case officers for the Defense Intelligence Agency, which serves as the Pentagon’s main source of human intelligence and analysis.
The official said that the size of the new service is expected to grow “from several hundred to several more hundred” in the coming years. Despite the potentially provocative name for the new service, the official played down concerns that the Pentagon was seeking to usurp the role of the CIA or its National Clandestine Service.
This “does not involve new manpower ... does not involve new authorities,” the official said. Instead, the official said that the DIA is shifting its emphasis “as we look to come out of war zones and anticipate the requirements over the next several years.”
Congressional officials said they were seeking more details about the plan. “My question is why? What’s missing and what’s going on?” said a senior Senate aide who had been given a preliminary briefing on the new service.
The plan was unveiled about a week after a senior U.S. Army officer with extensive experience in special operations and counter-insurgency fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan was nominated to serve as the next chief of the DIA.
While serving in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn published a harsh critique of intelligence operations in that country, faulting collectors for being too focused on tactical threats and failing to understand the broader demographic and political context of the battlefield.
About 15 percent of the DIA’s case officers will be part of the Defense Clandestine Service, the defense official said. New, more clearly delineated career paths will give DIA case officers better opportunities to continue their espionage assignments abroad.
The new service fits into a broader convergence trend. U.S. Special Operations forces are increasingly engaged in intelligence collection overseas, and have collaborated with the CIA on missions ranging from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan to ongoing drone strikes in Yemen.
The blurring is also evident in the organizations’ upper ranks. Panetta previously served as CIA director, and that post is currently held by former four-star U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus.
A key architect of the Defense Clandestine Service is Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, who formerly served in the CIA.