Just recently, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced that it would be creating a new branch within the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) called the Defense Clandestine Service (which is almost certain to soon obtain the acronym "DCS"). The creation of the DCS is fascinating for people like me for reasons ranging from logistics to reach, but the most fundamental question that needs to be answered is: do we really need this new intelligence branch? The answer, as with almost every question facing the Intelligence Community, is both yes and no.
The DCS was born out of criticism of the current work of the DIA. While their capability in the gathering and analysis of battlefield intelligence is sound, their work in gathering and analyzing critical information from beyond the battlefield has been questioned. In response to this, the DoD has set up a branch that in many ways will look very similar to the National Clandestine Service (NCS), the CIA’s primary intelligence collection branch. The process is relatively straightforward: the primary goal of the NCS is to collect reliable information from foreign actors, which is then passed on to analysts in the Directorate of Intelligence and elsewhere. The DCS will work in much the same way, in theory providing a larger base of human, electronic, and communications intelligence (HUMINT, ELINT, and COMINT) for the defense community.
If the DCS is in many ways mirroring the process used by the NCS, however, then is the DCS really needed? In announcing the new agency, the DoD specifically sought to allay concerns that the DCS will infringe on the functions of the NCS and played up the fact that the DCS would work closely with the NCS. It seems like a lot of bureaucratic red tape and unnecessary funding could be avoided if the DIA would cede these operations to the CIA. The gathering of HUMINT has been the specialty of the NCS and its predecessors for decades. Military information has always been one of the highest priorities for NCS officers, from Soviet nuclear technology to the location of terrorist forces in Afghanistan, and cooperation between Langley and the DoD has been much improved since 9/11. The lack of clarity on the level of control agencies have in specific areas and functions is already a bureaucratic nightmare, and adding another agency will only make this worse. Instead of creating what would essentially be two agencies competing against each other, it would make much more sense to expand the NCS’ expertise in HUMINT collection, while the DIA focuses more exclusively on battlefield collection and military analysis.
The fact that the Pentagon feels the need to create the DCS in the first place, however, suggests that the NCS is not sufficiently serving the needs of the defense community. The increase in information sharing and cooperation between agencies has been a focus since 9/11, yet there will almost always be red tape between agencies regardless (a lot of it in place for good reason). With no control over the NCS, the DoD may feel that it is not able to control the quality and quantity of information it receives, while many inside and outside the CIA are hesitant to further militarize the agency. What the DoD is in effect stating by creating the DCS is that if the CIA cannot or will not obtain and share the intelligence the Pentagon feels is necessary for its operations, then they will do it themselves.
As the above article hopefully underscores, the creation of the DCS is a mixed bag. On a positive note, the DCS would create a more centralized HUMINT capability for the DoD, who is by far the biggest consumer of intelligence within the U.S. government. On the negative side, the DCS could just become a version of the NCS within the DIA, creating unnecessary repetition and competition that hurts intelligence gathering capabilities in both agencies far more than it helps. While I am in no position to judge the feasibility and potential success of this new service, the growth and effectiveness of the DCS will be a particularly interesting topic within the intelligence community for years to come.