THE BLOG
02/07/2011 11:58 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Intelligence... and Combat

Why is the CIA conducting "covert" military operations in Afghanistan and the Department of Defense spending the bulk of the $80 billion intelligence budget? There is confusion in roles and missions here, and I say that as a veteran of both the Senate Armed Services committee and the Senate Intelligence Oversight committee.

There was a plausible argument for this kind of confusion during the Cold War days when we used the clandestine services to carry out operations in third world countries where the uniformed military might have triggered direct confrontation with the Soviet Union. But that era ended twenty years ago. Wouldn't it now make a lot more sense for the CIA to be collecting and analyzing information, for example on such questions as to whether a popular uprising in Tunisia might spread to Egypt, and the military to be carrying out drone attacks on the Afghan-Pakistan border -- presuming that's what the commander in chief wants done?

We have really well trained special forces for this kind of thing -- Delta Force, Rangers, Seals, Air Force Special Forces, and others. They are good at what they do, including covert operations carried out, in many cases, by personnel wearing native clothes and riding mules. I would welcome any instruction, particularly from those from the world of covert operations, as to why our principle intelligence agency is carrying out secret operations that are not secret while our military establishment is largely duplicating (maybe even triplicating) what the intelligence agency does or at least is supposed to do.

The central point is this: if the CIA let the military carry out clandestine operations and instead focused on its central mission, we might get better intelligence and better clandestine operations. And we might be able to save some money on the overly large defense intelligence establishment.

We are not fooling anyone with this operational shell game. Like the infamous "secret bombing of Cambodia" during the Vietnam War days, in which the secret was being kept from the American people not from the poor Cambodian who knew exactly where the bombs were coming from, our CIA-conducted operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere are not secret to the people subjected to those operations. So, by what theory is the CIA conducting these operations and not the military's Special Forces?

This is not a rhetorical question. If I knew the answer I would either divulge it or not have written this essay. Anyone, particularly those who know, care to enlighten us?

To comment, please visit Senator Hart's blog at: MattersOfPrinciple.com