Intelligence…and Combat

Author: Gary Hart

Why is the CIA conducting “covert” military operations in Afghanistan and the Department of Defense spending the bulk of the $80 billion intelligence budget?  There is confusion in roles and missions here, and I say that as a veteran of both the Senate Armed Services committee and the Senate Intelligence Oversight committee.

There was a plausible argument for this kind of confusion during the Cold War days when we used the clandestine services to carry out operations in third world countries where the uniformed military might have triggered direct confrontation with the Soviet Union.  But that era ended twenty years ago.  Wouldn’t it now make a lot more sense for the CIA to be collecting and analyzing information, for example on such questions as to whether a popular uprising in Tunisia might spread to Egypt, and the military to be carrying out drone attacks on the Afghan-Pakistan border–presuming that’s what the commander in chief wants done?

We have really well trained special forces for this kind of thing–Delta Force, Rangers, Seals, Air Force Special Forces, and others.  They are good at what they do, including covert operations carried out, in many cases, by personnel wearing native clothes and riding mules.  I would welcome any instruction, particularly from those from the world of covert operations, as to why our principle intelligence agency is carrying out secret operations that are not secret while our military establishment is largely duplicating (maybe even triplicating) what the intelligence agency does or at least is supposed to do.

The central point is this: if the CIA let the military carry out clandestine operations and instead focused on its central mission, we might get better intelligence and better clandestine operations.  And we might be able to save some money on the overly large defense intelligence establishment.

We are not fooling anyone with this operational shell game.  Like the infamous “secret bombing of Cambodia” during the Vietnam War days, in which the secret was being kept from the American people not from the poor Cambodian who knew exactly where the bombs were coming from, our CIA-conducted operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere are not secret to the people subjected to those operations.  So, by what theory is the CIA conducting these operations and not the military’s Special Forces?

This is not a rhetorical question.  If I knew the answer I would either divulge it or not have written this essay.  Anyone, particularly those who know, care to enlighten us?

10 Responses to “Intelligence…and Combat”

  1. Pat Boice Says:

    Didn’t Rumsfeld set up his own DOD intelligence service because he mis-trusted the C.I.A.? With Secy. Gates’ intelligence background it is interesting he hasn’t disbanded Rumsfeld’s work on that score, but then it is much more difficult to un-do something, isn’t it? Gates has proposed big spending cuts for the Pentagon – maybe Rumsfeld’s “after market” intelligence service will be part of that.

  2. nothingpetty Says:

    They need to justify their paychecks. God forbid any of them be out of a job.

  3. Dana Wittmann Says:

    I don’t know; Maybe because regular combat cannot win the war by and in itself (??)We have to be inventive and have the element of surprise. If someone like yourself can’t figure it out, maybe that’s a good thing. Just sayin’, (the whole idea) might be to confuse, on purpose

  4. Cathy Says:

    The CIA is a master at covert operations. Been doing it for lots of years. My
    question is what happened to the 2.4 trillion that the Pentagon lost? Was that
    a covert op too?

  5. blueskies Says:

    perhaps i am naive, but i think it is very simple: they all love spending money and playing at war. isn’t this empire? aren’t we now a warrior nation? and aren’t we in decline for so many reasons including these?

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  7. Thomas Leo Briggs Says:

    There may be times when special operations need to be run without the presence of any American troops. While US special operations units may be excellent when all the men in the unit are Americans or Americans are mixed into a unit with indigenous troops, I don’t think you can find very many examples of DOD running special operations units made up entirely of indigenous members operating behind enemy lines or in other denied areas.

    You can see examples of the CIA running successful indigenous only special operations units against the North Vietnamese Army in my book, “Cash on Delivery: “CIA Special Operations During the Secret War in Laos” (see details at

    Otherwise, you are probably correct, DOD special operations should have pre-eminence in special operations combat and intelligence gathering in denied areas where the US government is not going to be embarrassed when Americans are killed or captured in those denied areas.

  8. SU1977 Says:

    As Senator Hart states, the military (Rangers, Seals, Delta Force, etc.) has the natural function and should have the wherewithal to run these covert operations–and likely rather successfully. And I think a more proper division of labor should benefit both security and intelligence. But I don’t think intelligence would be significantly enhanced by simply having greater focus. It feels like the last few decades have been a low period for our intelligence efforts. Sure, it seems that we’ve been quite successful on the homeland security front, but that appears to be primarily the function of good fundamental law enforcement execution stemming from a heightened general sense of potential danger and successful exploitation of expanded surveillance powers. But the greater problem is overseas. The examples over the past few decades are myriad, but the inability to find bin Laden and the false intelligence about WMD in Iraq are perhaps the two most glaring examples. Add the recent havoc in Egypt and our apparent surprise to that list. So what is the issue? I keep hearing that we don’t have enough native speakers of Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, etc. That’s got to be part of it, but it probably doesn’t help either that we seem to have built an image around the Muslim world of being too closely allied with Mubarak-type dictators and corrupt central government authorities. Might that also have hugely negative repercussions for engendering trust from local villagers and tribal people? I don’t know. And finally I’ve heard a lot in the news lately about the State department having been asleep about the whole Tunisia/Egyptian/Middle East situation, whether we have adequately gamed out those scenarios, etc. Certainly it seems like we were caught flat-footed. Aren’t there people in the State Department and/or intelligence communities that get paid to plan for these types of very likely scenarios, and shouldn’t we have a less equivocal response than, “an orderly transition should begin now”? Maybe this is part of what has been planned to allow for maximum flexibility, but it just seems that on all these intelligence and contingency planning fronts, we should be executing much better.

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  10. Carlos Deegan Says:

    Yeah, it’s just mission creep. The company likes to be on top of covert work, and perhaps there’s some sense in getting a second opinion. And a third or 4th if you count the NSA and those whose names we cannot mention.

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