US intelligence is following suit on US President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia with the creation of a new clandestine intelligence service that is set to put greater emphasis on Asia — and China in particular.
Following a plan approved last week by US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the new Defense Clandestine Service will cement cooperation between existing case officers from the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) already operating outside war zones and those from the CIA, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
The new service, which is being touted as a “realignment” of human intelligence efforts, will grow “from several hundred to several more hundred” agents in the coming years as personnel and funding are redirected from current assignments, predominantly Iraq and Afghanistan, to Asia.
Its agents will be called upon to increase collection on “national intelligence” on a range of issues, from counterproliferation to new and emerging threats, reports said. The plan calls for military intelligence to focus beyond tactical theaters of operations, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and pay more attention to “ascendant powers,” which several experts interpret as meaning China, a move that would reflect a similar realignment of military forces under Obama’s “pivot.”
A senior Pentagon official told reporters in Washington on Monday that the new service would also ensure that intelligence officers “are in the right locations to pursue those requirements.”
The announcement came one week after Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, a former head of the US Joint Special Operations Command, was picked to head the DIA, which could presage a more prominent role for special forces in clandestine operations abroad.
Like CIA agents, DIA officers traditionally work out of US embassies and missions worldwide, either as declared military attaches or undercover. A number of DIA agents are known to operate in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s geographical proximity to China, as well as its close cultural and business ties with the emerging power, have proven attractive and convenient to US operatives over the years, as has the quality of the intelligence on China collected by Taiwan’s civilian and military intelligence agencies.
In addition to the DIA, the CIA and the US Department of Homeland Security, the ultra-secretive National Security Agency (NSA) has also been cooperating with Taiwan’s National Security Bureau in sharing communications intercepts from China. The NSA is also known to have helped Taiwan build a signals intelligence base on Yangmingshan (陽明山) in Taipei.
Although US officials have refused to comment on the specific targets of the new agency or where its agents will operate, the long history of cooperation between Taiwan and the US on intelligence about China suggests that some portion of the Defense Clandestine Service could eventually operate out of Taiwan.