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CIA is now taking on bigger and riskier roles in the Front Lines. In recent years the civilian spy agency has transformed into a paramilitary organization at the vanguard of America’s far-flung wars.

TARGET INTELLIGENCE

The C.I.A. has always had a paramilitary branch known as the Special Activities Division, which secretly engaged in the kinds of operations more routinely carried out by Special Operations troops. But the branch was a small — and seldom used — part of its operations.

That changed after Sept. 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush gave the agency expanded authority to capture or kill Qaeda operatives around the world. Since then, Washington has relied much more on the Special Activities Division because battling suspected terrorists does not involve fighting other armies. Rather, it involves secretly moving in and out of countries like Pakistan and Somalia where the American military is not legally allowed to operate.

The fact that the agency is in effect running a war in Pakistan is the culmination of one of the most significant shifts in the C.I.A.’s history. But the agency has at times struggled with this new role. It established a network of secret overseas jails where terrorist suspects were subjected to brutal interrogation techniques, and it set up an assassination program that at one point was outsourced to employees of a private security company, then known as Blackwater USA.

Some longtime agency officers bristled at what they saw as the militarization of the C.I.A., worrying that it was straying too far from its historical missions of espionage and intelligence analysis.

When he took office, President Obama scaled back the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism mission, but only to a point. He ordered that C.I.A. prisons be shut and that C.I.A officers no longer play a role in interrogating suspects accused of terrorist acts. At the same time, the administration accelerated the C.I.A.’s drone campaign, using Predator and Reaper aircraft to launch missiles and rockets against militants in Pakistan.

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