By Carlo Muñoz - 12/05/13 03:04 PM EST
Pentagon makes major changes to military intelligence
The Pentagon is merging its intelligence oversight and civil liberties protection offices, as part of an overarching effort to revamp how it conducts military espionage operations in the post-Afghanistan era.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the merger of the two Pentagon intelligence directorates on Wednesday.
The move will not only link more closely DOD-led efforts to ensure current and future military intelligence programs do not violate privacy rights, but will also save the department millions in personnel and overhead costs.
Hagel laid out plans to slash 20 percent of all personnel from directorates within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the Joint Staff.
The plan eliminates four deputy assistant secretary of Defense positions and their related staff, as well as consolidates several entities into a handful of OSD positions.
Additionally, the new joint intelligence oversight and civil liberties shop will be put under the command of the Pentagon's Deputy Chief Management Officer, Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon.
Both offices were formally under the purview of Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers.
While the Pentagon is adamant the merger is driven purely by cost savings, it comes amid new revelations of the National Security Agency's controversial electronic surveillance program.
Top secret NSA documents, obtained by former contractor Edward Snowden, detailed the agency's program collecting location data on hundreds of millions of cellphones around the world.
The program does not target Americans' location data, but the agency collects some domestic data "incidentally," The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
Privacy groups argued that the latest leak shows the need for Congress to pass legislation to limit the NSA's power and tighten oversight.
Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the Post that “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”
Aside from bolstering its oversight authorities, the Pentagon is also directing Vickers's office to reshape the department's intelligence operations as the Afghan war comes to a close.
Hagel ordered all DOD intelligence shops "to move forward with planning for how its mission and focus should evolve after the drawdown of the post-9/11 conflicts, including staffing levels, organizations, and programs."
One looming piece of that post-9/11 strategy is the department's new clandestine intelligence service inside the Pentagon.
The new Defense Clandestine Service (DCS) is designed to work with its counterparts at the CIA and across the U.S. intelligence community to gather information on national security threats beyond the battlefield, according to Defense officials.
In the end, the DCS plans to field more than 200 intelligence operatives, supported by elements from the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community, focused specifically on potential, long-term threats posed by China, North Korea and Iran.
earlier this year, House Armed Services Committee members blocked 50 percent of the DOD's funding for the new intelligence shop until Pentagon leaders could guarantee the DCS "is designed primarily to fulfill requirements ... that are unique to the Department of Defense or otherwise unmet" by the intelligence community.
Administration officials pushed back against the move, arguing the House language would put the brakes on an "important intelligence collection program."