The move reflects the growing weight of U.S. spy operations at home and abroad, the convergence in the work of civilian and military intelligence branches and their increasing emphasis on hunter-killer operations, which include the Barack Obama administration’s aerial drone assassination program.
The Pentagon plans to send hundreds of additional operatives abroad through the Defense Clandestine Service. The context is the U.S. military’s shift to the Pacific and Asia to counter the economic and military rise of China, as well as Washington’s operations aimed at forcing the Iranian government to abandon its nuclear program and at weakening the most anti-U.S. Islamist forces in North Africa and the Middle East.
The Pentagon announced the formation of the new spy unit in April but details have been kept secret. The Defense Intelligence Agency now has about 500 agents abroad. With its Defense Clandestine Service that number is projected to rise to 1,600. The number of DIA employees based in Washington has doubled over the past decade to about 16,500, according to the Washington Post.
The budget for the operation is being held up in the Senate, which is requesting more details on the plan and its costs.
“This is not a marginal adjustment for DIA,” stated the agency’s director, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, at a conference in October. The goal is to “push” DIA operatives into more countries, “out into [U.S.] embassies, out into military forces,” he stated. The DIA currently has agents operating in 139 countries, Flynn said. “We are in one of those turning moments in history … a very long turn.”
DIA operatives “will be trained by the CIA and often work with the U.S. [military’s] Joint Special Operations Command,” reported the Post.
Another converging area of operations between the civilian and military spy agencies is in the use of armed aerial drones operated by the CIA and the Special Operations Command, mostly the CIA.
Administration’s role in drone killingsPresident Barack Obama plays a key role in the designation of many assassination targets. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia, as well as many of the “more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan,” the New York Times reported in May.
Drone assassinations have included a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in Yemen last September on orders of Obama. Attorney General Eric Holder in a March 5 speech argued that this does not violate the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the government from taking life without due process, because the president’s considered judgment amounts to due process.
During the 2012 presidential campaign the Obama administration expressed concern that these declared powers might fall into the wrong hands if Mitt Romney won the election. Weeks before the vote administration officials stepped up cobbling together a legal structure with formal rules about when to conduct drone attacks and the president’s role in adding individuals to the kill list.
The Times is among liberal voices critical of the Obama administration’s latitude in conducting drone attacks. Its editors have called for a legal framework that would legitimatize assassinations much like the special courts set up in the 1970s, pushed by civil libertarians, that rubber stamp FBI espionage.
In a Nov. 29 editorial titled “Rules for Targeted Killing,” the Times presented its proposal: “Rules should specify that no one can be killed unless actively planning or participating in terror. … Raising money for terror groups, or making tapes urging others to kill, does not justify assassination, and neither does a threat or a revolt against another government.”
“Standard police methods should be used on American soil,” the editorial continued. “And if an American citizen operating abroad is targeted, due process is required. We have urged the formation of a special court” that “could review the evidence regarding a target before that person is placed on a kill list.”
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