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How the Lines Got Blurred

How the Lines Got Blurred

By David Ignatius - June 2, 2011

WASHINGTON -- One consequence of the early "war on terror" years was that the lines between CIA and military activities got blurred. The Pentagon moved into clandestine areas that had traditionally been the province of the CIA. Special Forces began operating secretly abroad in ways that worried the CIA, the State Department and foreign governments.

The Obama administration is finishing an effort to redraw those lines more carefully, issuing a series of new executive orders (known as "EXORDS") to guide the military's intelligence activities, sometimes through what are known as "special access programs," or SAPs.

The power of combining CIA and military resources was shown in the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The firepower came from the Navy SEALs, a Special Forces unit that normally functions under the Title 10 war-fighting authority of the military. Because the SEALs were operating inside Pakistan, a country with which the United States isn't at war, the CIA supervised the mission under Title 50, which allows the agency to conduct "deniable" activities overseas.

The system worked in the Abbottabad raid. But over the past 10 years, there have been instances when crossing the traditional lines created potential problems for the United States. It's especially important to understand these boundaries now as Gen. David Petraeus prepares to take over as CIA director. If the rules aren't clear, people at home and abroad may worry about a possible "militarization" of U.S. intelligence.

This column will examine how the lines got blurred between 2001 and 2006, when Donald Rumsfeld was secretary of defense and the war on terror presented new and difficult legal issues. President George W. Bush initially embraced Rumsfeld's decisions, but at the end of 2006, he changed course. A second column will examine the cleanup that was started in 2007 by Bob Gates, Rumsfeld's successor. It's one of Gates' most important but little understood legacies.

Rumsfeld has argued that his actions were proper and necessary, whatever second-guessers may say.

The push to expand Pentagon intelligence activities began soon after Sept. 11, 2001. Congress passed an "authorization for use of military force" against al-Qaeda that arguably created a global battlespace against terrorists. Rumsfeld was worried that the Pentagon wasn't effectively using its best assets, the highly trained Special Forces. That concern was compounded by the success of the CIA's small paramilitary force in the 2001 Afghanistan war.

"Rumsfeld was frustrated that he sat on this enormous capability he could not fully utilize," recalls John McLaughlin, who was the CIA's deputy director from 2000 to 2004. He describes the Pentagon's initial attempt to bolster intelligence operations after 9/11 as "an awkward, stumbling, improvisational, crash-bang kind of thing."

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davidignatius@washpost.com

Copyright 2011, Creators Syndicate Inc.

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