WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and CIA Director Porter Goss have told the White House they oppose a recommendation by the Sept. 11 commission to transfer the CIA’s control of covert paramilitary operations to the Pentagon.
Rumsfeld and Goss signed a letter saying the present arrangement should remain in place. A copy of the letter, which was transmitted to the White House during the last week or so, was shown to The Associated Press on Tuesday by a U.S. official. The official asked not to be identified further since the letter has not been made public formally.
“Neither CIA nor (the Defense Department) endorses the commission’s recommendation on shifting the paramilitary mission or operations,” it says. “We do not believe change is required in the responsibility of the CIA for foreign intelligence collection and covert action or activities, or that of the DoD for traditional military activities.”
The letter also recommends the military and CIA improve their communications when discussing paramilitary operations.
The White House has not acted on the commission’s recommendation or the letter.
The commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks concluded that having two organizations with paramilitary capabilities within the government was redundant.
“Whether the price is measured in either money or people, the United States cannot afford to build two separate capabilities for carrying out secret military operations, secretly operating standoff missiles and secretly training foreign military or paramilitary forces,” the commission’s report said.
Paramilitary operations include training pro-U.S. rebels, destabilizing governments and organizations through violence, and directly attacking enemy targets.
Such operations are overseen sometimes by the CIA and sometimes by military special operators such as the Green Berets. Which is used depends on how much secrecy, firepower and people are needed for the operation; they also often work together.
The CIA, for example, is often used when the U.S. government’s connection to an operation must be kept secret. Only the president can order the CIA’s paramilitary arm into action, and CIA officers operate under different legal authorities than military special operations forces.
President Bush had asked in November that Rumsfeld and Goss forward their recommendations on paramilitary operations within 90 days, but Pentagon officials said they were delayed while they studied the issue further.
Many of the Sept. 11 commission’s 40-plus recommendations, including the creation of a national intelligence director, were approved by Congress and implemented by the Bush administration.
The military has also expanded some its paramilitary authorities. Last year, Bush signed into law a measure that gives U.S. Special Operations Command up to $25 million to support “foreign forces, irregular forces, groups or individuals” that help U.S. efforts against terrorists and other enemies.
Such aid — which could mean cash, weapons or other assistance to often shadowy groups or figures — has traditionally been handled by the CIA. The Pentagon pushed the measure so its special operators wouldn’t have to wait for the CIA to supply money during such operations.
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