The plan, the official said, was developed in response to a classified study completed last year by the director of national intelligence that concluded that the military’s espionage efforts needed to be more focused on major targets beyond the tactical considerations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The new service will seek to “make sure officers are in the right locations to pursue those requirements,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the “realignment” of the military’s classified human espionage efforts.
The official declined to provide details on where such shifts might occur, but the nation’s most pressing intelligence priorities in recent years have included counterterrorism, nonproliferation and ascendant powers such as China.
Creation of the new service also coincides with the appointment of a number of senior officials at the Pentagon who have extensive backgrounds in intelligence and firm opinions on where the military’s spying programs — often seen as lackluster by CIA insiders — have gone wrong.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who signed off on the newly created service last week, served as CIA director at a time when the agency relied extensively on military hardware, including armed drones, in its fight against al-Qaeda.
Michael Vickers, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence and the main force behind the changes, is best known as one of the architects of the CIA’s program to arm Islamist militants to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s. He is also a former member of U.S. Special Operations forces.
The realignment is expected to affect several hundred military operatives who already work in spying assignments abroad, mostly as case officers for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which serves as the Pentagon’s main source of human intelligence and analysis.
The official said the new service is expected to grow “from several hundred to several more hundred” operatives in the coming years. Despite the potentially provocative name for the new service, the official played down concerns that the Pentagon was seeking to usurp the role of the CIA or its National Clandestine Service.
This “does not involve new manpower . . . does not involve new authorities,” the official said. Instead, the official said, the DIA is shifting its emphasis “as we look to come out of war zones and anticipate the requirements over the next several years.”
Congressional officials said they were seeking more details about the plan.