WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is drawing up a plan that would give the military a more prominent role in intelligence-collection operations that have traditionally been the province of the Central Intelligence Agency, including missions aimed at terrorist groups and those involved in weapons proliferation, Defense Department officials say.
The proposal is being described by intelligence officials as an effort by the Pentagon to expand its role in intelligence gathering at a time when legislation signed Friday by President Bush sets in motion sweeping changes in the intelligence community, including the creation of a national intelligence director.
The main purpose of that overhaul is to improve coordination among the country's 15 intelligence agencies, including those controlled by the Pentagon.
The details of the Pentagon's plan remain secret and are evolving, but indications of its scope and significance have begun to emerge in recent weeks.
One part of the overall proposal is being drafted by a team led by Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, a deputy undersecretary of defense.
Among the ideas cited by Defense Department officials is the idea of "fighting for intelligence," or commencing combat operations chiefly to obtain intelligence.
The proposal also calls for a major expansion of human-intelligence collection efforts under the Pentagon's auspices, both within the military services and the Defense Intelligence Agency, including more aggressive, offensive missions aimed at acquiring specific intelligence sought by policy-makers.
(The term "human intelligence" refers to information gathered directly by spies rather than by technological means.)
The proposal marks the latest chapter in the fierce and long-running rivalry between the Pentagon and the CIA for dominance over intelligence collection.
White House officials are monitoring the Pentagon's planning, as is the CIA.
The proposal has not won White House approval, according to administration officials. It is unclear to what extent U.S. military forces have been given additional authority to conduct intelligence-gathering missions.
To date, intelligence operations run by the Pentagon have focused primarily on gathering information about enemy forces, the main preoccupation of military commanders.
But the overarching proposal being drafted in the Pentagon, which encompasses Boykin's efforts, would focus military intelligence operations increasingly on counterterrorism and counter-proliferation, areas in which the CIA's directorate of operations has always played the leading role.
"Right now, we're looking at providing Special Operations forces some of the flexibility the CIA has had for years," said a Defense Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plan has not been approved.
"It would be used judiciously, and with all appropriate oversight controls," the official said.