Defense Intelligence Agency Expansion Must Be Closely Monitored

Officials claim Defense Intelligence Agency employees aren't being given new authority, but the developments must be closely watched.

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This undated handout photo provided by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) shows Intelligence Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn. Flynn, the U.S. general who vowed to fix intelligence to better fight the Afghanistan war is taking command of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Michael P. Noonan is the director of the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In The Federalist No. 51, first published on Feb. 6, 1788, James Madison (writing under the nom de plume Publius) made a very well-reasoned argument for checks and balances when he stated,

But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other -- that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on defense spending.]

Such checks and balances accept that some level of suboptimized efficiency is a necessary price to be paid for accountability.

It is interesting to note then, as the Washington Post's Greg Miller reported earlier this week, that the Pentagon is set to make a major expansion of overseas intelligence collection performed by service members and civilian members of the Defense Intelligence Agency, known as the DIA. Miller quotes the agency's Director Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as saying "This is not a marginal adjustment for DIA… This is a major adjustment for national security." Reportedly the CIA is too overstretched and,

"The CIA doesn't want to be looking for surface-to-air missiles in Libya" when it's also under pressure to assess the opposition in Syria, said a former high-ranking U.S. military intelligence officer who worked closely with both spy services. Even in cases where their assignments overlap, the DIA is likely to be more focused than the CIA on military aspects — what U.S. commanders in Africa might ask about al-Qaeda in Mali, for example, rather than the broader questions raised by the White House.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Afghanistan.]

While officials claim that no authorities are being expanded for these Department of Intelligence Agency operatives, that they will not be allowed to conduct covert actions abroad, and that there will remain full congressional oversight for such an expansion of its mission, this development needs to be watched very, very closely. Too much consolidation of the intelligence budget and its roles and missions under the Department of Defense needs to be considered carefully for precisely the reasons Madison mentions above.