House blocks funding for Pentagon intelligence service

Members of the House Armed Services panel's Intelligence and Emerging Threats subcommittee want guarantees the Pentagon's Defense Clandestine Service (DCS) "is designed primarily to fulfill requirements ... that are unique to the Department of Defense or otherwise unmet" by existing agencies in the U.S. intelligence community.

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Along with those guarantees, the panel's lawmakers want quarterly updates on "deployment and [intelligence] collection activities" by DCS agents, according to the subcommittee's markup of the department's fiscal 2014 spending blueprint. 

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

This year's House language will fence off 50 percent of DOD funding for the new intelligence shop until the reporting criteria outlined in the bill are met. 

But the subpanel's language is to "make sure we are on top of it" as the DCS slowly gains traction inside the Pentagon and intelligence community, subcommittee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told The Hill on Tuesday. 

The legislative action being taken on the DCS is not unlike other oversight efforts the subcommittee has taken on for a new military or intelligence agency, Thornberry added. 

Lawmakers on the subcommittee simply want to ensure "military intelligence gets proper priority" on Capitol Hill. 

"That sort of thing [is necessary] to make sure there is no gap in congressional oversight" of the DCS, the Texas Republican added. 

"I think that is a good thing," he added.

The subpanel chief also made clear the legislation was not prompted by concern by lawmakers that the DCS would subvert or overlap missions with the CIA. 

The new office, under the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), 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. 

Initially, the primary mission of the 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. 

While the new DCS could prove to be a boon for American intelligence efforts across the globe, the new organization could put the CIA at odds with the Pentagon's new chief, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

But DIA spokesman, Lt. Col. Thomas Veale, told The Hill in March the DCS was designed to "optimize" the Pentagon's role in U.S. intelligence operations, not usurp the CIA or other agencies in the intelligence community.

The DCS will delineate "DOD's [human intelligence] contribution to the national intelligence effort through better integration" with the CIA and other agencies, Veale said.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper publicly backed the Defense Department's new intelligence agency on Thursday, quashing any potential rivalry between the Pentagon and Langley. 

"I'm a huge proponent of ... the Defense Clandestine Service," Clapper told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. 

"More clandestine case officers, who are worth their weight in gold, [is] a unique capability that no other part of the intelligence community can render," he said during the panel's hearing on emerging national security threats facing the United States.