By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon's principal spy agency is appointing a British Air Force officer as its first deputy director in charge of improving "integration" between U.S. intelligence units and spy agencies of other English-speaking countries.
U.S. intelligence agencies have long had close relationships with their British counterparts, but former and current U.S. intelligence officials said this is the first time they knew of a U.S. spy agency naming a foreigner to a top executive position.
In an official announcement, the Pentagon said that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had chosen Air Vice Marshal Sean Corbett of Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) as its first "deputy director for Commonwealth Integration."
The Pentagon said that Corbett, presently the RAF's top professional intelligence officer, would be top advisor to DIA director Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart on defense and intelligence issues concerning an alliance of English-speaking countries known as the "Five Eyes."
Mark Lowenthal, a former senior CIA and State Department official, said the British general's DIA appointment marked a first for a foreigner, but the appointment was "not that unusual. Think of him as a senior liaison officer."
Five Eyes partners include the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Relations between these countries agencies have always been close, but the Pentagon said that over the last ten years the U.S. had sought to improve mechanisms to exchange intelligence information and to collaborate more closely.
Historically, Five Eyes spy units which have collaborated most closely have been the agencies which engage in electronic eavesdropping, notably America's National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
Traditionally, these agencies have shared raw information and divided up the world for eavesdropping coverage.
Normally among the spy world's most publicity shy agencies, GCHQ and NSA gained unwanted worldwide notoriety following large scale leaks about their sweeping electronic surveillance operations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who took refuge in Russia in the wake of U.S. threats to prosecute him.
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Andrew Hay)