LOS ANGELES (AFP) – US special forces operating overseas on secret missions have clashed with the CIA and carried out operations in countries that are staunch US allies, The Los Angeles Times reported on its website.
Citing unnamed senior intelligence and military officials, the newspaper reported that the clashes had prompted a push for tighter rules for military units engaged in espionage.
The spy missions are part of a highly classified program that officials say has better positioned the United States to track terrorist networks and capture or kill enemy operatives in regions such as the Horn of Africa, the report said.
But the initiative has also led to several embarrassing incidents for the United States, including a shootout in Paraguay and the exposure of a sensitive intelligence operation in East Africa, according to the paper.
In 2004, members of a special forces team operating in Paraguay shot and killed an armed assailant who tried to rob them outside a bar, The Times said.
US officials removed the members of the team from the country.
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,” the paper quotes a former senior CIA official as saying.
The official said members of the unit “got rolled up by locals, and we got them out.” The former official declined to name the country or provide other details.
The paper said that some Central Intelligence Agency officials have complained that special forces have sometimes launched missions without informing the CIA, duplicating or even jeopardizing existing operations.
And 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 report said.
When asked to comment on the matter, Marine Major General Michael Ennis acknowledged “really egregious mistakes” in the program, but said collaboration has improved between the CIA and the military, the report said.
Special forces troops typically work in civilian clothes and function much like CIA case officers, cultivating sources in other governments or terrorist organizations, The Times said.
One objective, officials said, is to generate information that could be used to plan clandestine operations such as capturing or killing terrorism suspects.
But it is not uncommon, said a former CIA official, for CIA station chiefs to learn of military intelligence operations only after they were under way, the paper reported.