The Pentagon is creating a new intelligence service aimed at gathering information on terrorist networks, weapons of mass destruction and other emerging concerns, a senior defense official said Monday.
The new Defense Clandestine Service will draw several hundred officers from the existing Defense Intelligence Agency, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the classified program.
The officers — some military, some civilian — will work alongside CIA counterparts in places such as Africa, whereal-Qaida has grown more active, and Asia, where Chinese military expansion and North Korean and Iranian weapons ambitions are drawing increasing U.S. concern.
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said the new service is unlikely to affect the work of the National Security Agency or any of the cybersecurity agencies based at Fort Meade.
The Maryland agencies are focused largely on signals intelligence, which includes intercepting communications. The Defense Clandestine Service is intended to expand the Pentagon's capabilities in human intelligence — gathering information through personal contact with sources.
"It's not as involved with what we do at Fort Meade," said Ruppersberger, who has been briefed on the service. The Baltimore County lawmaker said plans for it are "still in progress."
It was unclear where the new service would be based. A spokesman for Fort Meade said Monday that he had not heard about it. The Defense Intelligence Agency is based in Washington; officials there did not respond to a request for comment.
The Pentagon is looking to expand the reach of its intelligence operation after a decade in which its case officers have focused largely on gathering information in war zones.
"It's increasing certain areas of focus," Ruppersberger said. "We just want to make sure there's not duplication of effort."
Defense Intelligence Agency officers gather intelligence on emerging threats, mostly working out of CIA stations in embassies and operating undercover.
But an internal study by the Director of National Intelligence last year concluded that they still focused more on their traditional mission of providing the military with tactical information than on what's called "national" intelligence — and sharing that intelligence with other national security agencies, the defense official said.
Officers detailed to the Defense Clandestine Service will focus on gathering intelligence on terrorist networks, nuclear proliferators and other highly sensitive threats around the world, the official said.
"You have to do global coverage," the official said.
The study by the Director of National Intelligence also found that the Pentagon did not always reward clandestine service overseas with promotions, so its most experienced case officers often left for the CIA or switched to other career paths within the Pentagon.
The new service is intended to curb personnel losses by making clandestine work part of the Pentagon's professional career track and rewarding those who prove successful at operating covertly overseas with further tours and promotions, as is the practice in the CIA.
The move will boost the Pentagon's role in human intelligence collection around the globe. The CIA has dominated that mission for decades, and the two agencies have long squabbled over turf.
As a way of reducing that friction and increasing cooperation, field officers in the new service will answer directly to the top intelligence representative in their post, usually the CIA's chief of station, in addition to serving their agency back home.
Details of the new service have been worked out by the top Pentagon intelligence official, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, and CIA counterpart John D. Bennett, who heads the National Clandestine Service. The plan was approved Friday by Defense SecretaryLeon E. Panetta.
Tribune Newspapers and the Associated Press contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun