New DOD intelligence agency goes operational

The website for the Defense Clandestine Service (DCS), an arm of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, officially debuted on the agency's website this week, according to recent reports

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The new office 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, DSC plans to field more than 200 intelligence operatives, supported by elements from CIA and the rest of the intelligence community. 

Initially, the primary mission of DCS will be to home in on potential, long-term threats posed by China, North Korea and Iran while continuing to support the intelligence needs of combat troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere across the globe. 

Funding for the new DOD intelligence wing was also included in the final Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013 approved by Congress last year, despite initial skepticism by lawmakers on the new office. 

Top lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee pressed DOD officials on the need for such an organization inside the Pentagon, in the face of looming budget cuts. 

"What are the costs and how are they going to [afford it]?" Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told The Hill last April. "We asked those questions." 

"It’s all a question of value," then-Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said at the time, noting that groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban are enemies who "attacks from the shadows" and refuse to differentiate between soldiers and civilians.

As part of their mission, DCS officials will focus on human intelligence collection — known as HUMINT in military and intelligence circles — which has traditionally been the domain of the CIA and other organizations in the intelligence community. 

While the new DSC could prove to be a boon for American intelligence efforts across the globe, the new organization could fall victim to the bureaucratic turf wars that are commonplace in Washington. 

Dennis Blair, former director of National Intelligence, and then-CIA chief Leon Panetta got into a tussle in early 2000 over which organization would control appointing CIA station chiefs worldwide. 

The DSC was set up under Panetta's watch during his tenure at the Pentagon as Defense secretary.

In the end, Panetta won that fight for CIA, and Blair was eventually replaced by current DNI chief James Clapper. 

It remains to be seen how the new DSC will fit into the overall U.S. intelligence structure, and what direction presumptive Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will take the service if he assumes the top spot at DOD.