The New York Times reports that President Obama will announce that Leon Panetta, director of the CIA, will replace Robert Gates has Secretary of Defense, and that General David Petreaus will become director of the CIA. But this trend towards the blending of intelligence and military functions is moving into dangerous territory where it is increasingly unclear what legally constitutes war and who are lawful combatants under international law. It is a reflection of the U.S. empire as a permanent state of war.
President Obama’s decision to send an intelligence chief to the Pentagon and a four-star general to the Central Intelligence Agency is the latest evidence of a significant shift over the past decade in how the United States fights its battles — the blurring of lines between soldiers and spies in secret American missions abroad.
On Thursday, Mr. Obama is expected to announce that Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, will become secretary of defense, replacing Robert M. Gates, and that Gen. David H. Petraeus will return from Afghanistan to take Mr. Panetta’s job at the C.I.A., a move that is likely to continue this trend.
As C.I.A. director, Mr. Panetta hastened the transformation of the spy agency into a paramilitary organization, overseeing a sharp escalation of the C.I.A.’s bombing campaign in Pakistan using armed drone aircraft, and an increase in the number of secret bases and covert operatives in remote parts of Afghanistan.
General Petraeus, meanwhile, has aggressively pushed the military deeper into the C.I.A.’s turf, using Special Operations troops and private security contractors to conduct secret intelligence missions. As commander of the United States Central Command in September 2009, he also signed a classified order authorizing American Special Operations troops to collect intelligence in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran and other places outside of traditional war zones.
The result is that American military and intelligence operatives are at times virtually indistinguishable from each other as they carry out classified operations in the Middle East and Central Asia. Some members of Congress have complained that this new way of war allows for scant debate about the scope and scale of military operations. In fact, the American spy and military agencies operate in such secrecy now that it is often hard to come by specific information about the American role in major missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Libya and Yemen.
The operations have also created tension with important allies like Pakistan, while raising fresh questions about whether spies and soldiers deserve the same legal protections.
Officials acknowledge that the lines between soldiering and spying have blurred. “It’s really irrelevant whether you call it a covert action or a military special operation,” said Dennis C. Blair, a retired four-star admiral and a former director of national intelligence. “I don’t really think there is any distinction.”