COVERT OPS, PART 3….The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman follows up today on the Pentagon’s increasing usurpation of the CIA’s traditional role in running covert operations. A recently created organization called the Strategic Support Branch is the heart of the Pentagon’s operation:

Military and civilian participants said in interviews that the new unit has been operating in secret for two years ? in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places they declined to name. According to an early planning memorandum to Rumsfeld from Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the focus of the intelligence initiative is on “emerging target countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Philippines and Georgia.” Myers and his staff declined to be interviewed.

….Pentagon officials said they established the Strategic Support Branch using “reprogrammed” funds, without explicit congressional authority or appropriation. Defense intelligence missions, they said, are subject to less stringent congressional oversight than comparable operations by the CIA.

….”Operations the CIA runs have one set of restrictions and oversight, and the military has another,” said a Republican member of Congress with a substantial role in national security oversight, declining to speak publicly against political allies. “It sounds like there’s an angle here of, ‘Let’s get around having any oversight by having the military do something that normally the [CIA] does, and not tell anybody.’ That immediately raises all kinds of red flags for me. Why aren’t they telling us?”

This should be a public discussion. It’s entirely arguable that the military should have a greater role in human intelligence gathering, and it’s equally arguable that they should be less restricted in their actions than the CIA. But “arguable” is the operative word here: there are considerable risks in this approach, and Congress should debate them openly. After all, the only reason for the Pentagon to keep this secret even from Republican congressmen is because they suspect that even Republican congressmen wouldn’t approve of what they’re doing. That’s reason enough to find out what’s really going on.