|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-321966 (Correction) Military / Intelligence (L-O)
TITLE=MILITARY / INTELLIGENCE (L-ONLY) (Correction)
/// RE-RUNNINNG TO CORRECT: IN SECOND TO LAST PARAGRAPH, SECOND SENTENCE, PLEASE MAKE IT READ ". . . knew nothing about any such unit . . ."
HEADLINE: Pentagon Denies Report of Secret Intelligence Unit
INTRO: The U.S. Defense Department has denied a report in the Washington Post newspaper that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has created a secret intelligence-gathering unit reporting directly to him that can work more freely than operatives of the Central Intelligence Agency. But VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon that a senior official acknowledges the U.S. military is increasing its intelligence-gathering capability.
TEXT: In a written statement, senior Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita says there is no new unit that reports directly to the Secretary of Defense, as the Washington Post reported on Sunday. But Mr. DiRita says the Defense Department is working to improve what he called its "human intelligence capability."
Mr. DiRita notes that the commission that investigated the attacks of September 11, 2001 recommended improvements in U.S. intelligence gathering. And he says the Defense Department was working on that even before the commission's report was published last year, and is doing so in consultation with other U.S. government agencies, including the CIA.
Specifically, the Pentagon spokesman says an organization called the Defense Human Intelligence Service has been working to be what he called "more focused and task-oriented for the global War on Terror." He says the information gathered is made available to U.S. military commanders, sometimes for use in missions involving special forces.
Mr. DiRita says the War on Terror requires that type of more closely integrated intelligence and military operations. But he denied the suggestion in the Washington Post story that more intelligence gathering is being moved into the Defense Department in order to circumvent laws designed to maintain congressional control on U.S. government intelligence activities.
According to the Washington Post story, a new unit called the Strategic Support Branch resulted from a memo written by Secretary Rumsfeld just a month after the September 11th attacks. It says the agency was created in part due to Mr. Rumsfeld's dissatisfaction with CIA intelligence operations, which officials are quoted as saying sometimes have different priorities than the military would like.
The Post says the unit has been operating for the past two years in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, and reporting directly to the Secretary. The newspaper quotes what it calls an 'early planning memo' as saying target countries for the new unit could include Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, the Philippines and Georgia. But the paper did not confirm operations were actually underway in those countries.
The Post says the new organization was created using surplus funds in the Defense Department, without informing the congress, and that it operates with less congressional supervision than civilian intelligence agencies. Indeed, the newspaper reports that two members of congress responsible for monitoring U.S. government intelligence activities said they knew nothing about any such unit until the Post reporter told them about it.
The report and denial come amid a continuing controversy in Washington about how to best fulfill U.S. intelligence needs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the broader War on Terror. (Signed)
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