Experts say spy focus is off track

FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2013, file photo John Brennan, CIA Director nominee, testifies before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Brennan was confirmed after the Obama administration bowed to demands from Republicans, stating that there are limits on President Barack Obama's power to use drones against U.S. terror suspects on American soil. White House attempts to lift the cloak of secrecy over its use of armed drones have only raised more questions about the counterterrorism program, particularly Obama's legal authority to kill American citizens. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2013, file photo John Brennan, CIA Director nominee, testifies before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Brennan was confirmed after the Obama administration bowed to demands from Republicans, stating that there are limits on President Barack Obama's power to use drones against U.S. terror suspects on American soil. White House attempts to lift the cloak of secrecy over its use of armed drones have only raised more questions about the counterterrorism program, particularly Obama's legal authority to kill American citizens. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File) (Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Military action has diverted attention from world threats, according to report.

Posted: March 22, 2013

WASHINGTON - A panel of White House advisers warned President Obama in a secret report that U.S. spy agencies were paying inadequate attention to China, the Middle East and other national security flash points because they had become too focused on military operations and drone strikes, U.S. officials said.

Led by influential figures including new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and former Sen. David Boren (D., Okla.), the panel concluded in a report last year that the roles of the CIA, the National Security Agency, and other spy services had been distorted by more than a decade of conflict.

The classified document called for the first significant shift in intelligence resources since they began flowing heavily toward counterterrorism programs and war zones after the 9/11 attacks.

The findings by the President's Intelligence Advisory Board may signal a turning point in the terrorism fight. The document was distributed to senior national security officials at the White House whose public remarks in recent weeks suggest that they share some of the panel's concerns.

John Brennan, Obama's former top counterterrorism adviser who was sworn in as CIA director this month, told Congress in February that he planned to evaluate the "allocation of mission" at the agency. He described the scope of CIA involvement in lethal operations as an "aberration from its traditional role."

U.S. intelligence officials cautioned that any course adjustments are likely to be more incremental than wholesale. One reason is continued concern about the al-Qaeda threat. But another is the influence accumulated by counterterrorism institutions such as the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, as they have expanded over the last decade.

Even Brennan made it clear that the CIA will not relinquish its fleet of armed drones, saying in written answers submitted to lawmakers as part of his confirmation that the agency had a long paramilitary history and "must continue to be able to provide the president with this option."

Still, the advisory board's previously undisclosed report reflects a broader concern that has emerged about central aspects of the way counterterrorism operations are being prosecuted nearly 12 years after they began.

Last year, Brennan led an effort to impose tighter rules on the targeted killing of terrorism suspects overseas. In recent weeks, the administration has been forced to disclose details about the legal basis for drone strikes on U.S. citizens abroad amid an uproar in Congress.

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