Intelligence: February 7, 2003

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In 1998, the CIA revived an organizational name  they created in the early 1960s; the Special Operations Group. The original SOG (which eventually had it's name changed to "Studies and Observation Group" for security reasons) used CIA personnel, Special Forces troops and local tribesmen to run intelligence patrols into Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam during the early days of the Vietnam war. Actually, the CIA was doing this since the late 1950s. But once SOG was set up, the CIA handed it over to the Special Forces, but continued to run their own SOG missions in other parts of the world until bad publicity and Congressional hostility, pretty much brought the organization to a halt in 1990. So, as the Cold War ended, the CIA was getting out of the daredevil field work business. The 1998 SOG was created to do what the original SOG did, go into hostile territory and get the information any way you can, and do something with it. The new SOG has only a few hundred agents. Most of them are former military, with preference given to Special Forces, SEALs, Air Force paracommandos and Marines with interesting service records. Some of the SOGs are retired military, with at least twenty years of experience. The minimum requirement is five years military experience. The starting pay is about $50,000 a year and you have to get through a one year training course first.

But while the CIA is recruiting military people for field operations, the Department of Defense is setting up its own espionage service that duplicates a lot of what the CIA does. Part of this is driven by dissatisfaction with the inability of the CIA to provide the military with timely intelligence. These lapses have frequently come to light after the fact, and the generals have not forgotten. When SOCOM (Special Operations Command) was set up in the 1980s, a major capability it acquired was the thousands of Special Forces troops who spent several months a year over seas working with foreign armies. This was always seen as an excellent way to collect quality intelligence, and even the CIA depended on the Special Forces reports to keep current. The CIA routinely requested Special Forces operators to work directly for them, a custom that goes back to the early days of the Special Forces during the 1950s. But SOCOM increasingly found that they could compete with the CIA in producing quality intelligence. This was one reason the CIA revived its SOG. While this growing duplication seems inefficient, it also provides competition. If the president doesn't like what he's getting from the CIA, he can ask SOCOM to take a look. This keeps everyone on their toes. Competition in the shadows, so to speak.

 


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