AMERICAN military special forces teams sent overseas on secret spying missions have run into trouble with the CIA and operated in countries that are US allies, prompting efforts to tighten the rules for military units engaged in espionage, US intelligence and military officials say.
The spy missions are part of a highly classified program that officials say has better positioned the US to track terrorist networks and capture or kill enemy operatives in regions where weak governments are unable to respond to emerging threats.
But the initiative has also led to several embarrassing incidents for the US, including a shoot-out in Paraguay and the exposure of a sensitive intelligence operation in East Africa.
And the espionage effort has not led to the capture of a significant terrorism suspect.
Some intelligence officials have complained that special forces teams have sometimes launched missions without informing the CIA, duplicating or even jeopardising existing operations. They questioned deploying military teams in friendly nations – including in Europe – at a time when combat units are in short supply in war zones.
The program was approved in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks by the then secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, and is expected to be scrutinised by his successor, Robert Gates, who has been critical of the expansion of the military’s intelligence operations.
The issue underscores the sensitivity of using elite combat forces for espionage missions that have traditionally been the domain of the CIA.
The troops typically work in civilian clothes and function much like CIA case officers, cultivating sources in other governments or Islamic organisations.
One objective, officials said, was to generate information that could be used to plan clandestine operations such as capturing or killing terrorism suspects.
But critics point to a series of incidents in recent years that have caused diplomatic problems for the US.
In 2004 members of a military liaison element team operating in Paraguay shot and killed an armed assailant who tried to rob them outside a bar, former intelligence officials familiar with the incident said.
US officials removed the members of the team from the country, the officials said.
In another incident, members of a team in East Africa were arrested by the local government after their espionage activity was discovered.
“It was a compromised surveillance activity,” a former senior CIA official familiar with the incident said.
There have also been questions about where teams have been sent.
Although conceived to bolster the US presence in trouble spots around the world, the units had operated in friendly nations in Europe and South-East Asia where it was more difficult to justify, officials said.
Originally Posted HERE