Pentagon and DIA officials declined to discuss specifics. A senior U.S. defense official said the changes will affect thousands of DIA employees, as analysts, logistics specialists and others are reassigned to support additional spies.
The plan still faces some hurdles, including the challenge of creating “cover” arrangements for hundreds of additional spies. U.S. embassies typically have a set number of slots for intelligence operatives posing as diplomats, most of which are taken by the CIA.
The project has also encountered opposition from policymakers on Capitol Hill, who see the terms of the new arrangement as overly generous to the CIA.
The DIA operatives “for the most part are going to be working for CIA station chiefs,” needing their approval to enter a particular country and clearance on which informants they intend to recruit, said a senior congressional official briefed on the plan. “If CIA needs more people working for them, they should be footing the bill.”
Pentagon officials said that sending more DIA operatives overseas will shore up intelligence on subjects that the CIA is not able or willing to pursue. “We are in a position to contribute to defense priorities that frankly CIA is not,” the senior Defense Department official said.
The project was triggered by a classified study by the director of national intelligence last year that concluded that key Pentagon intelligence priorities were falling into gaps created by the DIA’s heavy focus on battlefield issues and CIA’s extensive workload. U.S. officials said the DIA needed to be repositioned as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan give way to what many expect will be a period of sporadic conflicts and simmering threats requiring close-in intelligence work.
“It’s the nature of the world we’re in,” said the senior defense official, who is involved in overseeing the changes at the DIA. “We just see a long-term era of change before things settle.”
The CIA is increasingly overstretched. Obama administration officials have said they expect the agency’s drone campaign against al-Qaeda to continue for at least a decade more, even as the agency faces pressure to stay abreast of issues including turmoil across the Middle East. Meanwhile, the CIA hasn’t met ambitious goals set by former president George W. Bush to expand its own clandestine service.
CIA officials including John D. Bennett, director of the National Clandestine Service, have backed the DIA’s plan. It “amplifies the ability of both CIA and DIA to achieve the best results,” said CIA spokesman Preston Golson.
Defense officials stressed that the DIA has not been given any new authorities or permission to expand its total payroll. Instead, the new spy slots will be created by cutting or converting other positions across the DIA workforce, which has doubled in the past decade — largely through absorption of other military intelligence entities — to about 16,500.
Vickers has given the DIA an infusion of about $100 million to kick-start the program, officials said, but the agency’s total budget is expected to remain stagnant or decline amid mounting financial pressures across the government.
The DIA’s overseas presence already includes hundreds of diplomatic posts — mainly defense attachés, who represent the military at U.S. embassies and openly gather information from foreign counterparts. Their roles won’t change, officials said. The attachés are part of the 1,600 target for the DIA, but such “overt” positions will represent a declining share amid the increase in undercover slots, officials said.
The senior Defense official said the DIA has begun filling the first of the new posts.
For decades, the DIA has employed undercover operatives to gather secrets on foreign militaries and other targets. But the Defense Humint Service, as it was previously known, was often regarded as an inferior sibling to its civilian counterpart.
Previous efforts by the Pentagon to expand its intelligence role — particularly during Donald H. Rumsfeld’s time as defense secretary — led to intense turf skirmishes with the CIA.
Those frictions have been reduced, officials said, largely because the CIA sees advantages to the new arrangement, including assurances that its station chiefs overseas will be kept apprised of DIA missions and have authority to reject any that might conflict with CIA efforts. The CIA will also be able to turn over hundreds of Pentagon-driven assignments to newly arrived DIA operatives.