The U.S. Congress is investigating the military’s expanding intelligence role to see if the Pentagon is meeting its legal obligation to inform lawmakers of its activities.
Lawmakers have met in closed sessions with Pentagon officials to examine a new Defense Department program for running foreign spy operations like those traditionally managed by the CIA, said the officials, who asked not to be identified.
The program, described by senior defense and military officials as part of Washington’s war on terror, has raised concerns that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could try to circumvent the CIA and avoid congressional oversight.
The intelligence panels in the House of Representatives and the Senate, along with their Republican chairmen, hope to subject the Pentagon to the same degree of oversight as the CIA, congressional officials said.
“They’re looking at whether the operations constitute military or intelligence operations. That distinction is unclear right now,” said a House aide.
But they declined to comment on discussions that have taken place between lawmakers and defense officials.
“All we’re interested in is any activities that fall within the definition of notification to Congress, that (Pentagon officials) understand what they are, they understand what our requirements are and that we’re in agreement,” said a Senate intelligence committee aide.
A Defense Department official said the Pentagon “complies with all of its statutory requirements, including congressional reporting requirements.”
The New York Times reported on Friday that Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told lawmakers in recent days that he would work with Congress to develop new reporting arrangements for Pentagon intelligence activities.
The National Security Act of 1947, which established the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Council in response to the Cold War, requires government agencies to keep Congress fully informed on intelligence activities. That oversight has mainly focused on the CIA.
The Times said lawmakers were also looking at whether the Pentagon’s intelligence activities met the act’s definition for covert actions, which would also require presidential authorization.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the CIA has been criticized for failing to share vital information with other agencies.
The Pentagon has since stepped up its intelligence operations, while the White House searches for a candidate to fill the new role of national intelligence director, who would replace the CIA director as the president’s top intelligence adviser.