Petraeus, Benghazi, the DNI and IC-ITE

My initial intent was to discuss with you the intelligence related issues associated with the September 11th Benghazi attack and offer my views on the proceedings of AFCEA’s Fall Intelligence Symposium that focused on the importance of implementing  the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (IC ITE, pronounced “eye sight”).  This train of thought, however, was jarringly  interrupted Friday (9 Nov) afternoon with  the mind bending announcement that the President had accepted (reluctantly) David Petraeus’ resignation as CIA Director because of an extra-marital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell (“ALL IN – – – The Education of General David Petraeus” with Vernon Loeb).  Ironically, Petraeus’ necessary but unforced departure from the seventh floor at Langley will vector us back to Benghazi and IC ITE.

My first reaction to the bulletin “Petraeus Resigns” was this probably is related to Benghazi being cast as an intelligence failure and somebody with sufficient name recognition had to fall on their sword post election to placate administration critics and get this story out of the media.  My next thought was what does unexpectedly having to find a new CIA Director means for IC?

While there was apparently some type agreement to keep a lid on what the FBI found in the email exchanges between Petraeus and Broadwell until after the presidential election on 6 November, I am willing to accept at face value the claims that Director Petraeus was not resigning because of culpability related to Benghazi nor over concerns about testifying (in closed session) to Congress regarding what the CIA or broader IC knew or did not know about threats to our consulate.  On the other hand, I am not willing to accept that Director Petraeus was not distracted by at by an FBI security investigation into his emails that morphed into revealing an affair that would hurt his wife and embarrass the CIA.  Since Petraeus’ resignation, a video of Paula Broadwell has surfaced where she tells an audience that the CIA Annex at Benghazi was used as detention center.  Senator Feinstein, SSCI Chair, says the CIA is denying this but more investigation is needed.  The SSCI Chair also claims that Congressional Intelligence Oversight leadership is being denied access to Petraeus  trip report to Libya to debrief the Chief of Station there about the 11 September attack.  Given the previous mortar and RPG attacks aimed at the Benghazi consulate, I am incredulous that the White House, State Department, DoD, and IC were individually or collectively unaware of the threat conditions there, but I can readily accept they didn’t know what to do about them other than to acknowledge them.  If Libyan militants perceived that the Benghazi Consulate was being used to detain their leaders that puts a new wrinkle on the motivation for the attack and why State and IC explanations have been so disjointed.

As for what this high profile resignation means for the CIA and the IC, it certainly means more leadership churn at Langley as the CIA gets ready for its fourth director since 2009.  That is mitigated though by the continuity of John Brennan at the White House, Michael Vickers at the Pentagon, and Jim Clapper as DNI all complemented by CIA’s own institutional forces.  Former CENTCOM and ISAF Commander retired Army General David Patraeus was, however, probably the right person at the right time as we withdraw forces from Afghanistan to oversee the HUMINT and Technical ISR effort needed to protect against a resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the region.  Moreover the trust and direct relationships Petraeus enjoys with political, military and intelligence leaders in the Middle East and Southwest Asia will be missed.  Nonetheless, cemeteries are full of indispensable people.  DNI groupies like me though will be watching to see if Petraeus’ scandal-induced resignation weakens the influence of the CIA within the IC and allows the DNI to assert more authority across the community but especially at Langley.  It will probably be difficult to impossible to discern from the outside, but the degree to which DNI Clapper is consulted on who should be named as the next CIA Director will be a leading indicator on the relevance of the DNI going forward.

Prior to Patraeus’ resignation I saw Benghazi not as an intelligence failure (i.e. to warn), but as a failure on the policy side to act.  If anything the swirl of new information since the Patraeus/Broadwell affair only reinforces this view on my part.   Conversely, I now have new concerns about a cover-up regarding what the CIA was doing in Libya and why.  Also, the inference that US diplomatic missions are used for detaining host country citizens will have a deleterious impact on the safety of US diplomats and acceptance of American values.

Regarding IC ITE, I am as convinced as any of the IC CIOs or Agency Deputies I heard speak at the AFCEA Fall Intelligence Symposium that this initiative is critical to the IC’s mission success in an environment of exponential data growth and Moore’s Law should also free up funds for the IC to pay for its share of the already biting budget cuts.  But listening to these IC seniors I was equally convinced that IC ITE will also require a strong DNI empowering the ODNI staff to compel the IC’s largest agencies to accept collective governance of IC ITE and where necessary direct the reprogramming of agency IT funding to support IC ITE development and implementation in the best interests of the community.

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