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?

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4 comments on “ODNI at Ten, Reorgs, and Lone Wolves

  1. Dave McDonald says:

    Joe, interesting blog, as always. It’s been years since I was in the same room with Mr. Clapper (out here in PACOM during his visits as NGA Director), but my lasting impression of him is that he’s fiercely independent and rigorous in his thinking, a bit of a tough guy, and not one (in my estimation) to become a wussified, job-protecting, politically-correct, bobble-head trying ever so hard to fit in within an administration full of naïve beginners and ideological misfits. But one wonders, frankly, in recent years. I don’t think we’re getting our list of threats to U.S. national security or the western democratic way of life very close to right at all, and that most certainly will be reflected in things like resource prioritization and organizational emphases within and around the IC. It is at times like these, when you have goofballs like John Kerry running around swinging grossly ill-considered secret deals with evil regimes like Iran, and his minions talking about the essential priority of creating conditions for more satisfying employment among committed Islamo-fascists, that a muscular, ballsy, independent and courageous IC (led from the top) is most valuable to the world’s most essential nation. A function that serves critically as a defacto check and balance to stupidity in any branch of our government should actually be accommodated and enabled as such in our Constitution – with specific provisions that protect IC seniors from being politicized. A tough (maybe fantastical) proposition, I fully acknowledge; the other side of that coin may look to many as an unaccountable IC, and I get the difficulty of this notion at this moment in our history. But as the complexity, diffusion, potential impact and unpredictability of threats continues to rise – some to the point of existential threats to the U.S. and our way of life, the role of independent and unbiased intelligence obviously becomes that much more critical to smart, timely, informed and resolute decision-making by our nation’s leaders. Employing the ODNI as a policy talking head in this equation should be at least a violation of law, if not (in the fullness of time) a breach of Constitutional responsibilities and strategic intent for the nation and the civilization. From my low perch, the top policy/security priorities for the country: 1) WMD in the hands of Islamo-fascist regimes, or any mostly unaccountable entities in the world, 2) the general rising tide of militant, expansion-oriented, subjugation-oriented and strategically-minded Islamism (i.e., what it’s already doing to destroy Europe – slowly but surely, and with clear intent), 3) arrogant, large, WMD-enabled nation-states hell-bent on consistently challenging the U.S. predominant role in the world, or routinely going to great lengths to poke us in the eye, 4) Nation-states focused, at the significant expense of most other domestic instruments of power or national prosperity, on long-term strategic challenges to U.S. military dominance in the world, and 5) current and emerging cyber threats — only the ones that have a high likelihood of being able to significantly degrade major infrastructure systems — “critical path” cyber threat vectors, if you will. And you can have a nuanced debate about everything that comes after this list. Of course Russia, China, N. Korea, Iran, and a handful of lesser tin-pot rogue regimes are encapsulated in this top-five list. Point is, that’s not in any way the consistent and smart dialogue you get from either the administration, or the IC, and I think most common sense folks know why. Hope springs eternal, however. Give it a few years, it’s bound to improve dramatically after early 2017 or so.

    • mazzajm1 says:

      Dave thanks for you thoughtful comment. I am going to demur on responding in a public forum like this regarding your policy recommendations.

      Regarding DNI Clapper he is both the most experience and senior member of the IC. This also makes him ” bullet proof” in terms of speaking truth to power

  2. spacer01 says:

    I believe the first WTC attack was in 1993 shortly after President Clinton was inaugurated. Otherwise, I think it is fairly spot on, especially the discussion of reorganizations.

    • mazzajm1 says:

      Thanks the first WTC attack was 1993; I was thinking about when the first indications of the planning for this attack occurred. And while we are on the topic of corrections the word in the following statement should be “inconclusive” vice “inclusive” . . . . but sadness that after 14 years of war to degrade, disrupt, and defeat terrorism the results are so inclusive.

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