CIA-JSOC convergence impedes covert action oversight, researcher warns

US Capitol CongressA GROWING CONVERGENCE BETWEEN the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United States military has been one of the most notable changes in American intelligence after 9/11. Some argue that the resulting overlap between the CIA and the military, in both capabilities and operations, has altered their character —perhaps permanently. The CIA has become more involved than ever before in lethal operations, while the military has embraced intelligence work with unprecedented intensity.

Today, more than two decades after 9/11, joint activities between the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) have become customary. JSOC was founded in the aftermath of operation EAGLE CLAW —the failed attempt to free US diplomatic personnel held in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis. Its mission is to bring together the Special Operations Forces (SOF) elements across the US military. In addition to ensuring inter-operability and standardization between these elements, JSOC oversees the operations of elite joint SOF units that perform highly classified activities around the world.

Increasingly since 9/11, the CIA and JSOC have been launching combined counter-terrorism operations and have learned to compete less and collaborate more —though turf wars between them are not uncommon. Today it is not unusual for CIA civilians to gather intelligence on a particular target before hand it over to JSOC, which in turn tasks its military personnel to use lethal force against the target. This type of collaboration may bear fruits in the counter-terrorism domain, but also makes it difficult for the US political leadership, primarily Congress, to exercise appropriate oversight over covert action.

Partial Oversight

In an article published on Sunday, Dr. Jennifer Kibbe, Professor of Government at Franklin and Marshall College, and a specialist on the oversight of intelligence operations, explores the effects of the CIA-JSOC convergence on democratic accountability. The article, “CIA/SOF Convergence and Congressional Oversight”, appears in the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence and National Security. If features statements from interviews by current and former Congressional staffers with experience in working for the intelligence committees of the US Congress.

Kibbe finds that the system of compartmentalization, which has traditionally secluded the activities of Congressional committees, coupled with the CIA-JSOC convergence, presents significant challenges for oversight. Presently, the Congressional intelligence committees oversee the activities of the CIA, while JSOC reports to the armed services committees. This poses problems in cases when, for instance, the CIA leads the front end of an operation and then hands it over to JSOC. This means that the intelligence committees in the House or Senate get access to only half of the operation and are unable to share their findings with the armed services committees. Conversely, the armed services committees are not privy to the CIA-led segment of the operation. This happens because of built-in compartmentalization procedures, but also because committee staffers tend have different clearance levels.

The Future

It is clear that the convergence between the CIA and JSOC is a product of the peculiar counter-terrorism environment that developed in response to the attacks of 9/11. Arguably, therefore, as Washington continues to shift its focus away from non-state actors, and concentrate instead on great-power competition, the CIA will return to its traditional intelligence role. In turn, its special operations wings, which have been involved in lethal operations since 9/11, will atrophy. It follows that the CIA-JSOC convergence, which makes it difficult for Congress to keep an eye on intelligence operations, is likely to subside and may even disappear altogether.

Kibbe strongly rejects this scenario, calling it “naïve”. She argues that, although it does not currently pose existential threats to the US, international terrorism will continue to be on the radar of American policy makers for the foreseeable future. Additionally, the ‘gray zone’ activities of the Kremlin, which have become a standard feature of great power competition in our time, invite covert action as an instrument of policy. Finally, she argues that the rapidly growing field of cyber operations is likely to feature prominently in “that area between diplomacy and war”, in which the CIA and SOF elements of the military are most useful to American policy makers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 August 2022 | Permalink

2 Responses to CIA-JSOC convergence impedes covert action oversight, researcher warns

  1. CIA Military Division has offensive Global capabilities. Like killing Al-Quida leader
    Al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan last Week.
    DIA provides intelligence to Intel community.
    8 August 2022

  2. Harel says:

    CiA decades offensive carried out against Al-quida in middle east, CIA and Mossad why don’t you want to eradicate Alshabab in east Africa?

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