CIA, Pentagon reject recommendation on paramilitary operations

Knight Ridder NewspapersFebruary 16, 2005 

WASHINGTON — The CIA and the Defense Department have rejected a call by the independent 9-11 commission to consolidate secret U.S. paramilitary operations within the Pentagon, including those in which the U.S. government wants its hand to remain hidden.

In its final report, the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks argued that the United States couldn't afford separate agencies conducting such operations and "should concentrate responsibility and necessary legal authorities in one entity."

President Bush asked the Pentagon and CIA in November to study the issue and submit their findings within three months.

The agencies have determined that each of them brings different capabilities to different situations and both should retain an ability to mount paramilitary operations, a participant in the study and U.S. officials familiar with its findings said Wednesday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the study hasn't yet been sent to Bush.

CIA Director Porter Goss appeared to confirm this during an appearance Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld "feels that he has capabilities that are important, and I agree. And I feel I have capabilities that are important, and he agrees," Goss said. "There's not a lot of disagreement on this. We just didn't come out at the same place the 9-11 commission did."

Rumsfeld said he had not yet reviewed the study. Previously he has said he does not think the Defense Department should conduct the kinds of covert paramilitary operations the CIA has specialized in.

Paramilitary operations, which are used to arm rebel organizations, destabilize governments, destroy targets or collect intelligence, are conducted by armed units that do not belong to conventional military formations.

Such operations, such as the use of CIA officers and American special forces to help topple Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban rulers in 2001, are often more physically demanding and require more specialized techniques than regular military operations.

U.S. special forces often mount paramilitary operations, but they are mostly clandestine missions in which concealing the American government's involvement is not a priority.

Covert paramilitary operations, on the other hand, are those in which the U.S. government wants to be able to deny any involvement. Covert missions at times violate international law or the laws of war, and American special forces are expected to follow those laws. As a result, such missions largely have been the work of the CIA.

Moreover, U.S. special forces wouldn't wear uniforms or carry military identification on covert operations. If captured, they could be denied international protections as prisoners of war because they could not prove they are soldiers.

The president must grant authority to conduct such missions, and selected members of Congress must be kept informed.

The 9-11 commission's final report last summer said the CIA lacked "a robust capability to conduct paramilitary operations with U.S. personnel" before the Sept. 11 attacks.

The agency had "relied on proxies instead, organized by CIA operatives without the requisite military training. The results were unsatisfactory," the commission said.

It said primary responsibility "for directing and executing paramilitary operations, whether clandestine or covert, should shift to the Defense Department."

But the CIA and the Pentagon determined that the CIA is best suited to conducting paramilitary operations that require a few operatives who can move quickly and secretly.

CIA paramilitary operations are run by the agency's Special Activities Division, which has a small permanent staff that can quickly contract with former CIA officers, retired American military personnel or foreigners on a operation-by-operation basis.

The study found that U.S. special forces are best suited to large operations requiring considerable logistical support.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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