An article in Wired's Danger Room blog caught my eye. Entitled "Pentagon Wants Spy Troops Posing as Businessmen," the article's main point of DoD wanting to use commercial cover in its clandestine activities seemed woefully out of date... by decades. However, a shocking notion was buried further down in the Wired article:
"There’s another change the proposal would make — one that seems boring and bureaucratic, but explains a great deal. Authority for overseeing the Defense Department’s human spying lies with the Defense Intelligence Agency. The proposal would give it instead to the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence"
Wired's original source for this information is an article from Inside Defense. I found one version of that article available to the public. A second article on the same subject is behind a paywall. The Inside Defense article is less dramatic, but still intriguing:
"The Defense Department is seeking new authority from Congress that would let DOD personnel work undercover in industry to conduct clandestine military operations abroad against terrorists and their sponsors. The Pentagon's request, submitted to lawmakers last week in a package of legislative proposals, is designed to significantly broaden DOD's existing authority -- first enacted in 1992 -- to use commercial cover in support of intelligence-collection activities.
The proposal would also delete from existing law the requirement that the Defense Intelligence Agency oversee DOD's use of commercial cover. The current statute was enacted before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks led Congress to establish the under secretary of defense for intelligence -- dubbed USD(I), for short -- to direct and oversee all intelligence, intelligence-related, and security programs of the department, DOD writes. Michael Vickers, the third person to hold the post since it was created in 2003, has served in that capacity for more than a year. The Secretary has directed that the USD(I) oversee these commercial activities," the proposal adds. "These developments have made the current statutory mandate for an oversight office in DIA an unwarranted limitation on the discretion of the Secretary and the Under Secretary in managing and overseeing the commercial activities program."
I have no idea why DoD would need to see more authorities to use commercial cover in its clandestine activities, even revenue generating commercial activities. Read Emerson's "Secret Warriors" for examples of special mission units and intelligence units using commercial cover. Regulations and directives for doing such activities have been around for ages. They are hard and expensive to initiate and maintain. They require tremendous discipline. The payoff is never immediate and there may never be a payoff. That's why they are so seldom undertaken. I've conducted commercial cover operations for near twenty years in both intelligence and special mission units, so I know about these things.
The Wired article says USD(I) will assume oversight of human spying (clandestine HUMINT) from DIA. That would mean Michael Vickers, as current USD(I), would become the DoD HUMINT Manager rather than LTG Michael Flynn, the incoming DIA Director. If true, that would be a significant change. The Defense News article only talks about USD(I) assuming oversight of the commercial activities program from DIA. Even that would be a big change.
Michael Vickers has a long history with special operations from his time in Special Forces, CIA and as ASD/SOLIC. He has a long history with both McRaven and Flynn. JSOC and special mission units are still in ascendency. Perhaps this is the sound of crockery breaking as Flynn moves into DIA.