A Holy War on the Arabian Peninsula?

When we last engaged I was opining that the Intelligence Community (IC) seems least prepared to warn effectively against what it perceives as the most immediate and likely threat to the homeland – – –  the self-radicalized Islamic Jihadi “lone wolf” already residing  in the United States.  Then in the midst of the sentencing phase of Boston Marathon Bomber Tamerian Tsarnaev trial and the 20th Anniversary of Timothy McVeigh’s destruction of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, an eccentric Tampa area mailman flew his homemade gyrocopter down the Mall to a landing on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol.  This act witnessed by thousands and seen by millions on TV seems to have more than anything else galvanized national concern about the threats “lone wolves” (whether foreign or domestic) can pose to national security.  Perhaps Postman Pat (a.k.a Doug Hughes) literally flying his gyrocopter under the radar into the restricted airspace of Washington D.C. after posting his intentions to social media and informing the press will make it obvious that DHS’ Intelligence and Analysis Directorate (I&A) needs to be aggressively applying modern analytics to the big data sets of human terrain information it has access to for discerning potential “lone wolves” in order to nominate them for investigation.   And yes, those charged with stopping the “lone wolves” among us should expect a high false positive rate from these DHS profiles.  Such is the nature of this threat.

Turning to the Iranian “nuclear agreement.” you won’t find me taking any kind of public stance on whether I think the “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program” (a.k.a “The Framework Agreement”) is a good deal or a bad deal, as it is just too early, at least for me, to tell.  What is clear though is that Tehran is anxious to have the economic sanctions imposed against it for its pursuit of a nuclear weapon lifted as soon as possible.  When asked about whether Iran “can be trusted” to formally agree to the provisions of “The Framework Agreement” and then not cheat on its implementation in return for sanctions being lifted, the President, Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense all have stated for the record that “verification” not “trust” is what the US will depend on for assuring Iran’s compliance.

The Framework agreement certainly puts the IC in the political and policy cross hairs of national security. Despite an excellent track record of keeping tabs on Iran’s nuclear development, and if the New York Times is to be believed for having even slowed it down with STUXNET malware, there will be many ready to assert that the Iranians can hide from IC sensors their continuing enrichment of fissile material to weapons grade levels.  Moreover, the IC will be put in the position of having to prove a negative where the absence of evidence that Iran is not enriching uranium doesn’t mean they aren’t.  Even with international inspectors in country, there is the reasonable potential that Iran could move its nuclear weapons enrichment capabilities to undetected locations inside of Iran or off shore to North Korea.  Given these circumstances, the stage is set so that if the Framework Agreement keeps Iran from going nuclear with the benefit of IC monitoring it will be a policy success, but if Iran can continue its nuclear enrichment program without detection it will be an intelligence failure.

Before wrapping up, I want to take note that war has broken out between Saudi Arabia and Iran’s Houthi proxies in what is now the failed state of Yemen, where Aden also remains the home base of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  As in Iraq where Tehran is supporting Shite military action against Sunni ISIS, Iran is providing military equipment and “advisers” to its Shia Houthi allies in Yemen.  More ominously, the Iranian Navy has deployed the destroyer ALBORZ and the logistics support ship BUSHER to the Gulf of Aden “to protect the Islamic Republic of Iran’s interests on the high seas.”  Subsequent reporting indicates Iran is sending a convoy of merchant ships to Yemen, presumably bringing war supplies for the Houthis.

The presence of Iranian naval forces in the region leads to the open question of whether Saudi Arabia will challenge them, and if so will the US Fifth Fleet become directly involved?  Having spent some tension filled time in this region (Iranian Hostage rescue 1979; Tanker War/Ernest Will escorting reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers 1987) the potential for the unexpected to happen at sea is considerable.  The standing USN order post STARK to “defend yourself” makes for a volatile situation that can turn strategic almost immediately because of tactical decisions made by ship captains operating under almost constant stress.  It is probably premature, but you don’t need to be Robert Kaplan to see that Iranian military success at rolling back ISIS in Iraq and establishing Houthi control over at least part of Yemen looks like a pincer that could envelope Mecca and Medina wresting them from Saudi Arabia’s Sunni control for the Shia Mullah’s in Qom.  Extrapolating from the current situation it is not farfetched to infer the likelihood for a bloody religious war been Sunnis and Shiites playing out on the Saudi Peninsula before the next US Presidential election.

Assuming no outside intervention, I would expect a “holy war” on the Arabian Peninsula to settle into a drawn out stalemate between the Sunni forces of Saudi Arabia and the Shia forces of Iran that will negatively impact the supply and price of oil.  The more discouraging option, of course, is Iran over time becoming the dominant power on the Arabian Peninsula and reestablishing the Persian Empire with control of all the significant energy resources from the Red Sea to Afghanistan.  Such a greater Persia, with or without nuclear weapons, would shift Iran from being a regional actor to a strategic competitor with global economic and religious clout.

That’s what I think; what do you think?

ODNI at Ten, Reorgs, and Lone Wolves

February is the shortest month of the year, but this past one seemed interminable with snow storm after snow storm disrupting routines for me both at work and home.  So the missing February MAZZINT blog is a function of a weather induced funk on my part rather than any shortage of material to discuss with you.

In fitting fashion the last snow storm of season for Washington, D.C. on March 5th delayed Director John Brennan’s public announcement of his expected reorganization of CIA to Friday March 6th.  The unclassified specifics of the reorganization were widely reported in the press (http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/03/06/us/politics/ap-us-cia-overhaul.html) so no need to rehash them here.  According to Director Brennan at least two of the outcomes he is expecting from this reorg is better intelligence mission outcomes resulting from putting analysis and collectors into “integrated” functional or geographic based centers.  Moreover, Director Brennan expects these ten CIA Centers to result in clear accountability for CIA intelligence successes and failures.

This is not a radical new age org structure and operating model; rather, the concept of directorates providing resources to multidiscipline teams is well proven in DoD (Military Services play the role of Directorates and the CoComs are the Centers) and in the private sector where IBM has been using this model for years.  Based on these other experiences there is no reason to expect this directorates/centers approach will not bring accountability and integration to the way the CIA operates. It remains to be seen, though, how manpower intensive this approach will be and how much friction it will be generate between CIA Directorates and the new CIA Centers.

Based on personal experience with reorgs to this model, I would caution CIA to expect two things:

  1. When this reorg is in place John Brennan will have 15 direct reports; organizational theory experts say five is the optimum number! Ergo 10 center directorates depending on five directorates and reporting directly to CIA’s director could actually end up diluting accountability.  For what it’s worth, I would be more optimistic about long range success of this reorg with less centers and/or all the center directors reporting to the DR via a DD for Mission Outcomes.
  1. The sustainability of this reorganization will be strained and tested severely when John Brennan leaves Langley. Those who perceive themselves as losing power, prestige, and promotability through this reorg will be actively looking to undermine it.  To continue into the future this new organization structure needs to be put in place quickly and naysayers banished to professional obscurity.

For those of you keeping score at home, CIA now joins DIA, and NGA in reorganizing itself within the last 18 months!

Having barely assimilated the news and implications of CIA’s reorganization announcement, I awoke on Sunday 07 March to Greg Miller’s story (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/in-campaign-against-terrorism-us-enters-period-of-pessimism-and-gloom/2015/03/07/ca980380-c1bc-11e4-ad5c-3b8ce89f1b89_story.html)  on the front page of the Washington Post with the headline “In campaign against terrorism, U.S. enters period of pessimism and gloom.”  My immediate reaction was neither strong agreement nor disagreement with what Miller was reporting, but sadness that after 14 years of war to degrade, disrupt, and defeat terrorism the results are so inclusive.

How we are doing with making America safe from terrorism truly depends on what you are asking about and to whom the question is being put.  Even more discouraging to me is that terrorism continues to dominate our country’s national security dialog while draining considerable resources in blood and treasure even though it presents no existential threat to the nation. Other threats are more immediate and have the potential to do grave harm to the security of the United States and/or impact our standard of living. I think DNI Clapper has it right when he places terrorism third on the threat list behind cyber and counterintelligence.

Reasonable people, however, can disagree with the DNI’s often stated observations that the IC is beset by more crises and threats than at any other time in his 50-year career.  When I joined Naval Intelligence 45 years ago the top three threats to US national security were:  Soviet Aggression in Western Europe, Assuring the Security of South Vietnam, and preventing a coordinated Arab States attack on Israel.  I am not sure today’s threats are any more daunting then the ones I remember from 1970 because each one of those could have brought the US into direct conflict with the Soviet Union  – – –  but who really cares?  Today’s threats from a rising Russia, to increasing tensions in the Far East, to a nuclear Iran, to ISIS, to the ability of non-state actors to do massive damage from a laptop are challenging enough in terms of their scope, diversity and ability to manifest themselves with little or no warning. As Admiral Nimitz’s N2 Eddie Layton was famous for saying “the biggest alligator is the one closest to you!”

Finally, I was at an INSA event on March 3rd where the agenda was reviewing/celebrating the 10 year anniversary of the DNI/ODNI and their impact on the IC.  Seems most of the speakers felt the DNI/ODNI deserved at least a grade of a “gentleman’s B” for keeping the US safe from another 9/11 like attack and for enabling the IC to be more effective than the sum of its parts (e.g. the take down of Osama bin Laden).  Domestic/Homeland Security Intelligence was the only area specifically mentioned where the DNI/ODNI has not achieved as much progress as the authors of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act (IRTPA/2004) probably expected.  This comment from a senior HPSCI Staffer sent my mind rushing to the DNI’s 2015 Global Threat Testimony (http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/2015%20WWTA%20As%20Delivered%20DNI%20Oral%20Statement.pdf ) delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 27 where the DNI said  “. . . homegrown violent extremist continue to pose the most immediate threat to the homeland.  Lone actors or insular groups who act autonomously will likely gravitate to simpler plots that don’t require advanced skills, outside training, or communications with other.”

Putting these two statements together brought me to the realization that IC today is least prepared to warn effectively against the most immediate threat to the homeland!  While “the lone wolves” are clearly far less capable than Islamic Jihadi terrorist organizations such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in Yemen, or Boko Haram in executing a mass casualty attack in the continental United States (CONUS), they do present a clear and present danger that could result in metropolitan “lockdowns” as occurred after the Boston Marathon Bombing.

One of the obvious DNI/ODNI successes in its ten year history is taking dangerous individual actors off overseas battlefields – – – – where the restrictions on intelligence collection are less stringent than here at home.  Certainly more can be done to bring the considerable resources of the FBI, DHS, and local law enforcement to bear so as to identify, disrupt and arrest home grown terrorists before they act.  However, if lone wolves are being radicalized, aided, or guided by foreign based terrorist organizations, then the IC should be more transparent with the American people about the threat to them posed by foreign terrorist groups interacting with home grown terrorist “wantabes.”  Perhaps now is the time for the Congress and the President to realize that foreign and domestic threats to the US homeland have been converging since the first World Trade Tower attack in 1991 and this reality requires that legal boundaries between domestic and foreign intelligence should be substantially adjusted if not eliminated through legislation for the sake of our homeland security.

That’s what I think!  What do you think?

2015 Will Be Like 2014 — Just Different

The holidays this year were unusually kind to the Mazzafro family, and I hope the same is true for you and all who matter to you.

No holiday though for world events that affect and effect our national security and personal safety.  While there have fortunately been no ISIS beheadings since our last virtual encounter, the last two weeks of December ushered out 2014 with several events that will surely impact the national security scene in 2015.  As the price of oil continued to drop driving the Russian economy into chaos, President Obama diplomatically recognized Cuba to mixed reviews in both countries.  There was a lone wolf terrorist hostage situation in Sydney Australia that resulted in two dead, while the Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar for Pakistani military children killing 141 (132 children).  All of this was unfolding as North Korea concocted a high visibility cyber hack against Sony Picture Entertainment (SPE; previously Columbia Pictures) to prevent the release of the feature film “The Interview,” which is a comedy satire imagining that two reporters acting on behalf of the CIA assassinate North Korea’s “Boy Leader” Kim Jung Un.  The cyber hack against SPE’s intellectual property, business records, and emails was followed by threats of physical violence against theaters screening “The Interview” on Christmas Day.  The US-led NATO combat mission in Afghanistan formally ended but with 11,000 troops remaining, while the general leading the fight against ISIS said things are going well, but that it will be at least three years before we can stand-down.  Not surprisingly the polemics about the Senate Select Committee for Intelligence (SSCI) majority report on the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques dissipated with the adjournment of the 113th Congress.

So given all this, here is a potpourri of what I think we can expect to see in 2015:

  1. The Sony Hack is likely to be the seminal cyber event that causes both the US government and the private sector to get serious enough about cyber security to encourage the Congress to pass bi-partisan legislation that will require the sharing of threat information between corporations and government agencies with cyber security responsibilities.  Moreover, there will likely be a robust debate about what constitutes “cyber vandalism” as opposed to “cyber terrorism” and when a “cyber-attack” is an act of war?  Presumably, this debate will educate the American people regarding when and how they can expect their government to protect them in cyber space.  I also believe that the Sony hack and privacy concerns raised by the Snowden revelations will cause a rapid adoption of data encryption by virtually all Fortune 500 companies around the world and a significant number of individuals as well. As for North Korea, I would not be surprised to see a more open struggle emerge between hardliners and Chinese-encouraged moderates regarding pragmatic accommodations with South Korea and the US.
  2. The 46% drop in oil prices during 2014 has certainly ratcheted up the effects of economic sanctions on Iran and Russia while stimulating economic activity in China, Japan, and the US – – so what’s not to like about this situation? Nothing, if it causes Tehran to agree to curtail its nuclear weapons program in a verifiable way and results in Moscow rethinking its expansionist foreign policy in former states of the defunct Soviet Union.  The alternative, however, is an “us against the world” outlook that actually causes Putin and Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei to see no option but to keep pursuing aggressive nationalistic based policies that will continue to challenge a “lame duck” Obama administration facing an adversarial Congress.
  3. With China’s economic growth rate slowing to between 6% and 7% as the population ages, the Xi Jinping regime will become increasingly concerned with domestic issues. Of particular importance to Xi and the Chinese Politburo will be insuring that the democracy movement/demonstrations in Hong Kong do not spread to China’s mainland coastal cities. Meanwhile, the declining price of oil should have a calming effect on China and other nations seeking to establish territorial claims in the South and East China Sea in order to preserve energy exploration rights.
  4. By this time next year the US lead effort to degrade, disrupt and defeat ISIS with airpower will likely have devolved into a stalemate despite the US committing another 7,000 combat “advisers” (for a total of 10,000 boots on the ground) to steady and encourage the Iraqi Army. The irony here is that US ground forces will likely be acting in concert with the Iranian military to keep at least a Shia Iraq in existence.  Unless Syrian Dictator Bashar al Assad is taken out politically, or by other means, there seems little chance of the Syrian civil war ending in 2015.
  5. With 11,000 US troops remaining in Afghanistan as combat advisors, the end of America’s combat mission in this foreboding landlocked country is more political rhetoric than reality. The presence of US troops and the Pakistani military’s unwillingness to now concede safe haven to the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the aftermath of the Peshawar military school slaughter should keep the central government in Kabul viable, but for the long term prognosis see Iraq after the US departure in 2011 and Afghanistan post the Russian departure in 1989.  Already Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is saying the United States might want to “re-examine” the timetable for removing the remaining U.S.-led coalition troops in the country by the end of 2016.
  6. And now for the “lightening round”
    • “Lone Wolf” attacks, both physical and cyber, will increase in 2015 as result of self-radicalization, aggrieved individuals, or some just seeking their “15 minutes of fame.”
    • NSA’s bulk collection authorities will likely be renewed, but with considerable deference to privacy concerns and transparency. I also expect to see privacy advocates arguing before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)
    • The Intelligence Community’s (IC) deteriorating relationship with Congress should begin to heal, but it will be incumbent on the IC to rebuild the trust and confidence of the Congress (and by extension the American people) in the community. Both the IC and its Congressional oversight committees should begin a dialogue regarding how to revamp oversight so it can be more effective both in terms of IC mission needs and growing privacy concerns associate with the Information Age.
    • Budget caps will not be lifted by the 114th Congress, leaving Overseas Contingency Operating (OCO) funds as the only source of relief for unmet defense and intelligence funding needs. Military Service Intelligence agencies will be particularly squeezed
    • Despite the interest of incoming Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter in acquisition reform, which is shared with Senator McCain (incoming Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee) and Representative Thornberry (next Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee), there will be no meaningful reforms enacted in 2015.
    • As defense and intelligence contract award opportunities diminish because of budget realities, there will be an increase in merger and acquisition activity within the DoD and IC’s industrial base.
    • Expectations that private sector Research & Development (R&D) will be sufficient to meet Defense and IC needs are misplaced as contractors shift funding from R&D to protect shareholder equity and/or improve their balance sheets for potential acquirers.
    • 2015 is the “make or break” year for ICITE to begin to deliver mission capabilities to the IC if IOC, as laid out in 2012, is going to be achieved by 2017. Agencies opting out of the Desk Top Environment (DTE), the slow development of governance models, and challenges with integration do not make me optimistic

 

 

That’s what I think; what do you think?