Last month, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the creation of a new U.S. espionage agency: the Defense Clandestine Service, or DCS. DCS is expected to expand the Pentagon's espionage personnel by several hundred over the next few years, while reportedly leaving budgets largely unchanged. The news nonetheless surprised some observers in Washington because the move appeared, at least initially, to be a direct challenge to the Central Intelligence Agency, whose National Clandestine Service leads the country's spy work overseas. Then came a second surprise: former CIA officers and other intelligence experts started applauding. The question is why.
Four reasons stand out. First, DCS can be regarded as a rebranding and upgrading of the Defense Intelligence Agency's espionage unit, the Defense HUMINT Service (HUMINT stands for "human intelligence"), which was created in 1992 to improve the coordination and accountability of military espionage. The CIA has long supported the efforts to improve the military's HUMINT tradecraft, but despaired because the military's case officers never stayed long in their jobs. The new DCS will have ranking general officers and field grade officers who stay put for the long term.
Second, the CIA likes the idea behind DCS because it has been gaining advantages from improved military espionage over the past few years -- the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden is just one example of the kind of success that close collaboration can achieve. The CIA would like to have that capability against national targets outside the current war zones. The CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the military services, diplomats, and law enforcement officers all need discriminating and persistent engagement with an increasingly dispersed and mercurial adversary. Thanks to the growth of broadband communications and social networking, terrorists, drug syndicates, and arms traffickers operate as overlapping networks. This is a new kind of engagement that requires innovative operations within the legal bounds of civil societies. To respond to such threats, the CIA and