Sorry this is late, but I have been on vacation and I am a semi-retired Navy pensioner who is becoming increasingly slack as I age gracelessly.
Anyway, since we last joined up at the “Browser Bar” Bradley Manning has been convicted by a military judge of double digit counts of mishandling classified material while Edward Snowden has been granted refugee status by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Despite my comments in this venue last month, nobody in officialdom seems exercised that the IC has been had by two insiders with clearances. Isn’t that alone enough to ask if the time consuming/expensive personal clearance vetting process being used should be changed? Oh that’s right; we already know we need to do that! At least The Atlantic magazine has mused about why NSA did not have a contingency for dealing with the impact of a leak revealing it was collecting metadata on all phone calls in the US. More pedestrianly, the guys I drink with want to know when somebody further up the chain of command is going to be held accountable for these security breaches happening on their watch.
More importantly though, Snowden’s revelations about NSA bulk collection of US persons telephone metadata has sparked the deferred debate about what the balance between security and civil liberties should be in a post 9/11 America. This debate seems to be ordained to last until the Congressional mid-term elections in 2014 with less than meritorious affects for the IC such as:
- The IC leadership will be doing more explaining than proposing to Congress over the next two years as to why the Congress should believe that the IC is being full and open with the Legislative Branch – – – even in closed sessions
- The narrow defeat of the Amash Amendment shows that Congress will be bi-partisanly interested for different reasons in knowing about how much funding is focused on collection that involves US person information
- The Amash Amendment, which the congressional leadership of both parties opposed, also points to members of the House and Senate being less willing to accept the advice of the HPSCI and SSCI that intelligence programs are necessary, cost effective, and constitutional
- The FISA Court being hypersensitive to charges of being a “rubber stamp” secret venue where only the government’s case for surveillance is heard, will raise the standards required to authorize intrusive collection involving US persons
Then there is the assessment that Putin granting Snowden refugee status is the proximate cause for President Obama cancelling a Post G-20 August summit meeting with the Russian leader. While this is probably true, I would like to believe the real reason for the cancellation is Putin’s continuing support for Syria’s Basher al Assad as that civil war continues and Egypt remains in political turmoil.
Ironically in the midst of all this the US closed over 20 embassies in the Muslim world during the weekend of 3/4 August as Ramadan was ending and issued a month long travel alert to American citizens based on NSA intercepts of an Al Qaeda conference call green lighting a major attack against US interests (most likely a truck bomb aimed at the US Embassy in Aden) proposed by Yemen based “general manager” of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula Nassir al Wahyushi. Obviously this attack did not occur (though others did, killing scores aimed at government security forces in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) raising the question of whether the alert was more about using non-specific intelligence to demonstrate the importance of NSA collection to national security or whether the alert was based on creditable intelligence and actually thwarted the attack. Here is where the IC is between a rock and a hard place: if its warning disrupts the attack and nothing happens then the IC is “wrong”; but if it fails to warn effectively and an attack occurs then the IC is incompetent. Reminds me of the birthday my mom gave me two expensive neckties; when I immediately put one on to show my appreciation she crestfallenly asked “so you don’t like the other tie?” As an intelligence officer who has had to make some warning calls alone in the middle of the night while actively in the game, log me as accepting that the warning stopped a dangerous attack that was well planned but dependent on surprise.
As the Congress recessed for August and the President headed for a family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard there was consensus across the elected members of the government that FY 14 will begin under a Continuing Resolution (CR) and with Sequestration in effect. In round numbers that means DoD absorbing another $50 billion in cuts while the National Intelligence Program (NIP) gets a $5 billion haircut. With his announcement on 31 July of the DoD Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) Secretary Hagel laid out the stark choice the country is facing in terms of investing in maintaining military capacity (i.e. numbers) or investing in enhanced capabilities operated by a smaller force. This zero sum reality is a direct result of the nation’s need to reduce its national debt as a matter of national security if not a threat to our standard of living.
It’s unclear to me how the SCMR will impact the eight DoD agencies that are also in the IC, but if military size is cut it’s hard to foresee how service intelligence along with NSA, NGA, NRO, and DIA would not also be cut in size and budget proportionately with the rest of the force. Reports are surfacing that DoD is already considering the elimination of SouthCom and AfriCom by consolidating them with NorthCom and EuCom respectively. I believe this is the tip of the iceberg with consolidation/elimination also in the offing for major defense agencies (DLA, DISA, DIA, etc?) and related functional commands/organizations within the military services. If service size and billet funding are key issues (Duh!) then there is a case for centralizing functional capabilities such as logistics, comms, training, medicine, personnel/pay, intelligence, etc at the DoD level to save money by reducing redundant infrastructure. Some will recall Admiral Bill Owens advocated strongly for this as VCJS in the mid 90s as the way to absorb the “Peace Dividend” with minimal impact on operational military capabilities. Specifically with regard to military intelligence as money gets even scarcer in FY 14 with no relief in sight it is not a leap to envision:
- Significant cuts to ONI, NASIC, NGIC, and MCIA with missions like support to acquisition, collection management, HUMINT, etc. being consolidated and assumed by DIA with little additional plus up in its budget or personnel end strength. An alternative is reducing DIA to a policy and oversight agency and devolving missions to the services to provide directly to the CoComs
- Consolidation of service unique DCGS programs into a single Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise (DI2E) Program
- All military intel related IT controlled and managed by NSA, DIA, or DISA
That’s what I think; what do you think?