Pentagon: NSA reforms could create military intel gaps

The White House's efforts to rein in the National Security Agency's intelligence operations might end up doing more harm than good to U.S. military commanders, who depend on the agency's efforts on battlefields worldwide.

American regional and combat commands, from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region are "the biggest users and consumers" of the actionable intelligence produced by the NSA, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday. 

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Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said the department is still reviewing the slew of recommendations by a White House-mandated NSA review panel, designed to rein in the agency's domestic intelligence operations. 

"What I do not want to see here is a gap" in the intelligence flow from NSA down to American units on the ground, at sea and in the air, the defense chief told reporters at the Pentagon.

For his part, Dempsey said his main job was to ensure that American commanders have the information they need to complete their missions anywhere around the world. 

That said, any plan or proposal that would hinder that flow of information is unacceptable, the four-star general said. 

"We better think hard about" these proposals, Hagel added. 

Hagel's concern lies primarily in recommendations that calls for the separation of the NSA's civilian intelligence activities and those military-centric operations carried out by Cyber Command. 

Both Pentagon leaders also expressed concern over the panel's proposal to separate the leadership of the NSA and Cyber Command. 

Current NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander, who is also the head of the command, could be the last general officer to lead both organizations. He is expected to step down from both roles this spring. 

The White House has already shot down the panel's recommendation to split the leadership of the NSA and the military command, but is still undecided whether the administration will seek to untangle the operational ties between both organizations. 

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president would likely say which of the proposals he will adopt sometime between returning back to Washington from Hawaii after New Year's Day and the State of the Union, slated for Jan. 28.

Carney said Obama will likely take the report with him on his vacation "and study it and work on it."

The White House review panel and subsequent recommendations were spawned by the firestorm of controversy surrounding the illegal disclosure of agency operations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden earlier this year.

The recommendations came just two days after a federal district court judge ruled that the NSA's phone and Internet tracking operations appeared to violate the constitutional rights of millions of Americans.