[JURIST] The US Defense Department has denied a published report that it has set up a new internal espionage arm to get around legal restrictions on foreign clandestine operations. The Washington Post said over the weekend that DOD had established a "Strategic Support Branch" that would be subject to fewer legal constraints than CIA missions under new interpretations of Title 10 [text] of the US Code, which governs the armed services, and Title 50, which governs foreign intelligence. Title 10 requires the Defense Department to report all deployment orders to Congress, but new DOD guidelines allow for clandestine human intelligence operations to be conducted before the publication of a deployment order. Additionally, Title 50 requires all executive branch departments to keep Congress informed of intelligence activities, but allows an exception for "traditional… military activities" and their "routine support." The Pentagon's general counsel has reportedly reinterpreted "traditional" and "routine" to have a more expansive meaning. A Pentagon spokesman said Sunday:
There is no unit that is directly reportable to the Secretary of Defense for clandestine operations as is described in the Washington Post article of January 23, 2005, entitled "Secret Unit Expands Rumsfeld's Domain". Further, the Department is not attempting to "bend" statutes to fit desired activities, as is suggested in this article.
It is accurate and should not be surprising that the Department of Defense is attempting to improve its long-standing human intelligence capability. …
The demands of the Global War on Terror necessitate a framework by which military forces and traditional human intelligence work more closely together and in greater numbers than they have in the past. These actions are being taken within existing statutory authorities to support traditional military operations and any assertion to the contrary is wrong. The department remains in regular consultation with the relevant committees in Congress and with other agencies within the intelligence community, including the CIA.
Read the full DOD statement. Also Sunday, Republican Senator John McCain [official website] said that the Senate Committee on Armed Services [official website] would look into the Pentagon's activities in this area. Read the transcript [PDF] of McCain's interview on CBS' Face the Nation. Reuters has more.