Sunday, December 27, 2009

Potential Impacts of Special Operations Forces (SOF) and CIA Paramilitary Operations

Diminished CIA Intelligence Capabilities
Some observers suggest that a capability to plan and undertake paramilitary operations is directly
related to the Agency’s responsibility to obtain intelligence from human sources. Some
individuals and groups that supply information may also be of assistance in undertaking or
supporting a paramilitary operation. If CIA were to have no responsibilities in this area, however,
certain types of foreign contacts might not be exploited and capabilities that have proven
important (in Afghanistan and elsewhere) might erode or disappear.8

Additional Strain on SOF
Some question if this proposed shift in responsibility would place additional strains on SOF who
are extensively committed worldwide. Others argue that SOF lack the experience and requisite
training to conduct covert operations.9 They suggest that if SOF do undertake covert operations
training, that it could diminish their ability to perform their more traditional missions.

A Reduction in Flexibility
The 9/11 Report notes the CIA’s “reputation for agility in operations,” as well as the military’s
reputation for being “methodical and cumbersome.”10 Some experts question if DOD and SOF
are capable of operating in a more agile and flexible manner. They contend that the CIA was able
to beat SOF into Afghanistan because they had less bureaucracy to deal with than did SOF, which
permitted them to “do things faster, cheaper, and with more flexibility than the military.”11 Some
are concerned that if SOF takes over responsibility for clandestine and covert operations that they
will become less agile and perhaps more vulnerable to bureaucratic interference from defense
officials.

SOF Funding Authority
Section 1208 of P.L. 108-375 permits SOF to directly pay and equip foreign forces or groups
supporting the U.S. in combating terrorism. Although not a recommendation in the 9/11
Commission’s report, many feel that this authority will not only help SOF in the conduct of
unconventional warfare, but could also be a crucial tool should they become involved in covert or
clandestine operations. In Afghanistan, SOF did not have the authority to pay and equip local
forces and instead relied on the CIA to “write checks” for needed arms, ammunition, and
supplies.

Endnotes

8 See U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, IC21: Intelligence
Community in the 21st Century, Staff Study, 104th Cong., 2d sess., April 9, 1996, pp. 201-202.

9 Kibbe, p. 113.

10 The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 416.

11 Kibbe, p. 112.

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