THE END OF THE RUMSFELD ERA….Via James Joyner, National Journal has an interesting article suggesting that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is likely to eliminate some of Donald Rumsfeld’s most dubious forays into personal intelligence gathering. Here’s the key paragraph:

Gates, a former CIA director, is likely to “roll back” several of Rumsfeld’s controversial initiatives. This could include changing the mission of the Pentagon’s Strategic Support Branch, an intelligence-gathering unit comprising Special Forces, military linguists, and interrogators that Rumsfeld set up to report directly to him. The unit’s teams work in many of the same countries where CIA case officers are trying to recruit spies, and the military and civilian sides have clashed as a result.

As James points out, there’s a lot of bureaucratic turf fighting going on here, and everyone acknowledges that the military has a need for its own tactical battlefield intelligence. But the key to understanding Rumsfeld’s expansion of Pentagon spying is that the Strategic Support Branch worked largely out of embassies, not on battlefields, and reported directly to Rumsfeld. Why? The only reason for a spying operation to report directly to him, rather than to commanders on the ground, is because, Kremlin-like, Rumsfeld wanted a personal intelligence service that could help him win internal political battles against the likes of Colin Powell and Condi Rice, not Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. And he wanted the ability to cherry pick the intelligence directly, rather than seeing it only after it had been sifted clean by professional analysts who might come to conclusions he didn’t want to hear about.

So good for Gates. Battlefield intel is fine, but setting up a parallel CIA is megalomania. It’s time to put an end to it.