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January 23, 2005
CNN: WaPo Report On Military Spy Unit Incorrect On Key Details

The Washington Post dropped a bombshell this morning with a report that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had formed a special intelligence unit in the armed forces that operated outside of CIA and Congressional oversight and reported directly to Rumsfeld. CNN now has a report confirming the existence of the intelligence unit, but contradicts the Post in several critical areas:

He confirmed the SSB was formed after the September 11, 2001, attacks "to have as much flexibility as possible" and in response to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's ongoing concerns expressed at the highest levels of the department that the Pentagon did not have the capability to gather intelligence in the field on its own.

The official confirmed that the SSB reports to Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, director of the DIA, but that policies are set by Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, one of Rumsfeld's most senior aides. ...

When SSB teams are deployed in the field, as a practical matter, they report to the combatant commander, or the commander of the region, though the official could not say this happens all the time. For example, in Iraq, the unit would be under the supervision of Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command.

The official acknowledged that some observers may view the SSB as an effort by Rumsfeld to expand Pentagon intelligence operations at the expense of the CIA, which traditionally has conducted both clandestine and covert intelligence operations. He said that, though SSB operations do not require permission from the CIA, the military still coordinates with the CIA. ...

The official said Congress had been notified about the formation of "this kind of activity," but might have been told of the program several months ago when it had a different name.

So we don't have Rummy running his own special-ops intelligence spooks answerable only to him, the commanders in the theater have operational command, and the CIA does get coordination with the teams in the field, even if they're not in charge. According to CNN's source, Congress has been informed of the program before. That's quite a different picture than the Post painted, even if CNN won't say that in its report.

Quite frankly, I fail to see the problem here. I want our special-ops forces to get all the human intelligence they can in order to conduct the operations necessary with as much safety and success possible. We know that the CIA has had its problems in giving us that. The DIA has filled this role before. Now the Pentagon has made their role more robust, a reasonable and welcome development in wartime, especially in this kind of war.

I wish John McCain and Chuck Hagel would do their jobs and get more information before recklessly commenting on the Sunday morning talk shows. This looks like a non-story, only fueled by their depressingly familiar grandstanding.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 23, 2005 8:11 PM

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