A Smaller and Radically Restructured IC?

The AFCEA/INSA Intelligence and National Security Summit (Summit) held at the Omni Shorem Hotel in Washington DC on 18 and 19 September was a grand event.  Virtually all of the IC’s senior leadership made presentations while the IC’s industrial base was well represented by over 1,000 attendees many from small businesses because this event was specifically planned to be unencumbered by classification.  The Summit was “on the record” with numerous members of media attending, some even moderating panel sessions.  Not surprisingly the Summit generated considerable media coverage.  The professionals at INSA and on the AFCEA Intelligence Committee have every reason to be proud of this inaugural Summit that they organized and produced.

During his keynote, Director of National Intelligence(DNI) James Clapper, after some good natured carping about the expectations for the IC to perform flawlessly in an environment of “immaculate collection,” proceeded to introduce the third iteration of the National Intelligence Strategy (NIS).

http://www.dni.gov/index.php/newsroom/reports-and-publications/204-reports-publications-2014/1114-dni-unveils-2014-national-intelligence-strategy

The DNI took considerable time to insure the audience understood the “mission,” “vision,”  “mission objectives,” and the “enterprise objectives” laid out in the NIS.  The DNI then spent an equal amount of time explaining that it was more important than ever in today’s environment of distrust in government, that members of the IC have and abide by a set of professional effects.  For this reason the DNI personally directed that the ethical principles associated with mission, truth, lawfulness, integrity, stewardship, excellence, and diversity be the opening page of the NIS.

As I listened to the DNI I was optimistic that the IC was going to take full advantage of the platform provided by this two day Summit to begin the challenging work of rebuilding the trust and confidence of American people in their IC.  I actually envisioned the IC leaders on the agenda using the Summit’s various sessions and tracks to explain what the IC does for them as opposed to the Snowden narrative of what it is doing to them.  However, beyond some general references to the new NIS and the importance of having the trust and confidence of the American people, I did not detect over the balance of The Summit either a coherent or coordinated message from the various podiums relating back to how the NIS was going to impact the organizations and functions of the IC being addressed.

Particularly discouraging to me was the panel on “What Should the Nation Expect from its IC?” Rather than talking directly to this seminal question about the metaphysics of the IC going forward, the Directors of four of the IC’s “big five” agencies got off on a tangents about what is in their in boxes, i.e. what is keeping them busy vice what the IC needs to be doing, implying that what the IC is doing is what the nation can expect from its IC.

With the exception of NSA Director Mike Rogers, who said the IC  should have done better anticipating the break out of ISIL into Iraq because it is our job, the other agency chiefs asserted that the IC did provide policy makers with good strategic warning about the dangers ISIL represented to US interests in the region,  but because of the nature of ISIL (non-state actor, indigenous funding, strong operational security, etc.) the IC could not offer meaningful warning as to when those dangers would manifest themselves nor could they provide insights on how to deter or disrupt ISIL’s plans.  While this was actually an informative and thoughtful discussion aimed at managing external expectations about what the IC is capable of, it was not what I was expecting hear about based on the session’s title.

Since the Summit did not address what I (and perhaps others) should or could expect from the IC, I thought I would use this forum to offer some IC measures of effectiveness (MOEs) for discussion and debate.  My underlying premise, because of the critical role the IC plays in informing national security policies and decisions with classified information that cannot (and in most cases should not) be independently verified, is that the IC must have both the trust and confidence of its  government consumers but also the American people who are funding what the IC does. As a result, each of the five MOEs for the IC proposed below are focused individually and collectively on creating “trust and confidence” in the “IC Brand”:

  • COMPETENCE: Assurance that the hard work of creating meaningful intelligence out of disparate classified and unclassified information will be performed diligently by trained intelligence professionals well versed in the tradecraft of their specific disciplines on a schedule driven by consumers not producers.  The quality controls essential for producing reliable intelligence should be woven into all intelligence processes at the earliest opportunities.
  • OBJECTIVITY:  IC outputs will be data driven, well sourced, and auditable.  Intelligence to be useful must be about what the adversary is contemplating vice what consumers need or want to hear from the IC for any number of reasons.
  • ENGAGEMENT: In order to produce timely, insightful, and relevant intelligence, the IC must be directly engaged with its consumer base with short feedback loops resulting in both the continuous improvement of IC products and their utility to those using intelligence to inform their decisions. The IC must also be interacting regularly with the American people, through a well thought out public affairs campaign showing the members of the IC to be honorable people, who respect the rule of law, doing their best to protect our nation from harm.
  • TRANSPARENCY: For government consumers with clearances to rely on intelligence they are provided, they should and will demand to know something about the sources and methods associated with intelligence before they put it to critical use. Those in the media and the general public should not be expected to trust a secretive IC that does not trust them.  Trust is a two way dynamic.  In the spirit of the US Constitution, IC sources and methods are necessarily classified to protect the IC’s competitive advantage over those who mean to do us harm, but what the US IC does and why it does it should be subject to classification only by exception.
  • HUMILITY: By its nature, intelligence is always incomplete and ambiguous, so there is usually no reason for the IC to believe it knows more about an adversary, situation, or technology than others elsewhere in the government, academia, industry, or the media who actually may have better access in some case than the IC.  As a general proposition the IC will perform best when it is acting as a learning organization.  It will also engender trust and confidence by consumers and the public the more openly the IC holds itself to account when intelligence fails to adequately inform decision makers or the IC overreaches its authorities to execute its missions

Obviously many will disagree for good reasons with these five candidate MOEs for assessing IC performance, but that discussion and debate will be good for the health of the IC.  What I am reasonably certain won’t be up for debate, though, is that after doubling the size and budget of the IC since September 11, 2001, few in the federal government or in the local town square will have much tolerance for the IC if it fails again to warn regarding a major attack on the US homeland or delivers an intelligence assessment that enables a strategic policy failure such as the 2003 invasion of Iraqi.

The National Security Act of 1947 created today’s centralized national Intelligence Community in response to the then public demand for “no more Pearl Harbors.”  If there is another foreign caused mass casualty attack on the Continental United States (CONUS), the American people should be expected to demand to know why it’s generously resourced IC failed to protect their individual and collective security.  I fear these demands will not produce acceptable answers for either the consumers or funders of intelligence; instead, they will lead to a smaller and radically restructured IC

That’s what I think; what do think?

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