Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Strategic Support Branch

Philippines Is on New U.S. Spy List

Philippine News, News Report,
Rita Gerona-Adkins, Feb 28, 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Philippines is one of five countries targeted for a new, clandestine U.S. espionage arm set up to uproot cells of international terrorism and to ensure homeland security.

This is according to a report obtained by theWashington Post, and written January 23 by staff writer Barton Gellman titled, "Secret Unit Expands Rumsfeld's Domain."

According to the Post, the organization, an intelligence initiative called "Strategic Support Branch," was disclosed in "an early planning memoradum" to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in which he described its focus on "emerging target countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Philippines and Georgia."

All the countries named, except for Somalia, have policies aligning themselves with the U.S., even if at different levels, against organizations the U.S. has classified as terrorist, such al Qaeda and its allies.

The Philippines, for instance, has declared a "partnership" with the U.S. against terrorism, and has been working with the U.S. in countering the Abu Sayyaf and in pursuing peace initiatives with the MILF, a separatist movement in Mindanao.

This broad reach to even friendly countries is said to indicate the extent of the Pentagon's new concept in developing a more efficient antiterrorist initiative.

The Post also cited a high-ranking official with direct responsibility for clandestine work.

This official, declining to speak on the record about espionage in friendly nations, said that the Defense Department sometimes has to work undetected inside "a country that we're not at war with, if you will, a country that maybe has ungoverned spaces, or a country that is tacitly allowing some kind of threatening activity to go on." The origin and mission of this previously undisclosed program, according to a defense department internal account, was to equip Rumsfeld, frustrated by the failure of the intelligence community in helping prevent the 9/11 attacks, with "independent tools for the full spectrum of humint [combined term for human intelligence] operations."

This program include "human intelligence operations," as opposed to such high-technology gathering as using "satellite photography," and range from "peacetime recruitment of foreign spies" to "interrogation of prisoners and scouting of targets in wartime."

The Post also cited a recent Pentagon memo that statesthat recruited agents may include "notorious figures" whose links to the U.S. government would be "embarrassing if disclosed."

The Defense Department's effort to shift the operation of conducting clandestine missions in friendly or unfriendly countries away from the Central Intelligence Agency's territory to this new organization, and especially the nonpublic disclosure of its nature, has apparently raised some hackles in the U.S. Congress.

The Post reported that "two longtime members of the House Intelligence Commitee, a Democrat and a Republican," had said that they were unaware of such a move before they were interviewed.

A top Republican lawmaker who declined to be identified was quoted to have remarked, "It sounds like there's an angle here of, 'Let's get around having any oversight by having the military do something that normally the [CIA] does, and not tell anybody.' That immediately raises all kinds of red flags for me. Why aren't they telling us?"

Asked by the Philippine News for reaction, Philippine Embassy staffers, declining to be on record, however, professed no knowledge of such a new intelligence initiative being operated in the Philippines. They added efforts in curbing international terrorism including activities in Mindanao."

A Pentagon press briefing on January 24, following the Post's report, shed more details, if not exhaustive, on the strategic support branch program. Responding to the reporters' questions, a senior Pentagon official said the initiative was Rumsfeld\'s response to meet the demand for human intelligence in the various campaigns against terrorism:

"(H)e put together a proposal, which has come to be characterized as the Strategic Support Branch. That proposal was put forward as part of a broader proposal cosponsored by the secretary of Defense and DCI [Department of Central Intelligence] to increase the amount of funding that went to human intelligence capabilities both at the agency - CIA, and at DIA.

And that was initially put forward in the FY '05 budget, went forward as part of all of the standard materials that this department puts forward for that purpose, briefed staffs in the appropriations and intelligence oversight committees."

Having funding from the Fiscal Year 2005 budget, the program was started last October, although its operations, under the old system, have been operating in Iraq and in Afghanistan. It is designed to be implemented by small teams of about 10, mostly civilians.

Is it operating in countries other than Iraq and Afghanistan? "No," the spokesperson answered.

The much-debated challenge of establishing a well-coordinated, U.S. intelligence mechanism has lately been met with a significant development - the designation of a Director for Intelligence Services (DIS) whose task is to oversee 15 intelligence
agencies.

John Dimitri Negroponte, 65, former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines (1993-1996), former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and recently appointed U.S. ambassador to Iraq, has been appointed by President George W. Bush to head the umbrella agency. "John will make sure that those whose duty it is to defend America have the information we need to make the right decisions. We're going to stop the terrorists before they strike," Bush said at the White House, then added, "He understands the power centers in Washington."

As director of National Intelligence, Negroponte will be the principal adviser to the president and will coordinate the nation's spy agencies. The position will be above the CIA director.

One of its salient responsibilities is "to establish a National Counterterrorism Center for planning intelligence missions and coordinating information on terror threats and responses."

The nomination will have to go through the Senate Intelligence Committee for confirmation.

Specific details of how Rumsfeld\'s Strategic Support Branch organization would fall in place in the national intelligence machinery, or what could be publicly accounted for, will be discussed in Congress.

4 comments:

apprentice01 said...

I still have this kidie-kidie thing on spy games. So, are there Brad Pit-likes here in the Philippines playing spies? I've watched the movie Spy Game three times, Brad Pit's mentor, Robert Redford had a plan B to assasinate an Islamic leader in case plan A fails(being executed by Pit) in Pit's ignorance. To make sure that the targeted leader be eliminated, plan B anticipated plan A. So instead of quietly eliminating the leader without collateral damage to civilians, Redford used fanatics to blew up a whole complex inflicting destructions to civilians.

apprentice01 said...

I still have this kidie-kidie thing on spy games. So, are there Brad Pit-likes here in the Philippines playing spies? I've watched the movie Spy Game three times, Brad Pit's mentor, Robert Redford had a plan B to assasinate an Islamic leader in case plan A fails(being executed by Pit) in Pit's ignorance. To make sure that the targeted leader be eliminated, plan B anticipated plan A. So instead of quietly eliminating the leader without collateral damage to civilians, Redford used fanatics to blew up a whole complex inflicting destructions to civilians.

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