2014 is Shaping Up as Year To Remember for the Intelligence Community

Happy New Year!  In the aftermath of Sequestration, Snowden, Benghazi, and the Government Shutdown, 2013 is a year that I suspect the Intelligence Community (IC) is collectively happy to have in the rear view mirror.  2014 will surely be better – – – won’t it?   I would like to think so, but given that events of 2013 have not yet fully played out I anticipate the IC will have another tumultuous time in 2014.

  • First it is a mid-term election year with control of the U.S. Senate in play which will present all kinds of political theater associated with IC issues and performance
  • The stability and predictability of the budget deal was paid for with an agreement to cut approximately $4 billion from the National Intelligence Program (NIP) and $1 billion from the Military Intelligence Program (MIP) in FY 14 with continued pain in FY 15. Should interest rates rise as expected there will be unplanned cuts coming to service the national debt which is not reduced by this deal.
  • Besides Syria, volatile civil violence has broken out in Iraq, Egypt, and the Ukraine, while Gaza and Lebanon continue to simmer.  Any of these conflicts could easily widen to regional conflicts with global impacts
  • The Sochi Winter Olympics is a venue for political statements through terrorist violence with Putin’s Russia likely to respond forcefully and indiscriminately
  • Iran’s agreement to curtail its nuclear weapons enrichment activities in return for relief from economic sanctions terminates in March,  unless there is mutual agreement to extend the deal
  • China and Japan continue to jockey with naval forces over conflicting claims to the barren rocks of Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea with the US 7th Fleet as the likely referee
  • North Korea remains as dangerous and as baffling as ever.  It is to early to tell if Kim Jung Un is his own man, or the puppet of Stalinist hardliners who see confrontation as the Hermit Kingdom’s best national security play
  • The withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan will create opportunity for the return of both “warlord rule,” Taliban provided safe havens for Al Qaeda, and increased opium cultivation
  • Whether there will be more Snowden revelations about NSA sources and methods remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that what has already been compromised is changing how NSA is viewed and will lead to a continuing Congressional debate about the balance between secrecy, security, and civil liberties that will feed into the fall mid-term elections.

So it looks like another year of growing demand for timely insightful intelligence with diminishing resources in an environment where 50 percent of the IC workforce is experiencing its first budget drawdown in an increasingly politicized environment.  Even without the NSA issues, 2014 appears poised to challenge the limits of the IC’s capacity, capabilities, and flexibility to discern and articulate the most serious threats to US national security.

Turning to NSA collection practices, the arc of the debate about the need for NSA to secretly collect the bulk metadata of all US persons phone calls to protect the nation from terrorist attacks has already begun to be scribed by conflicting federal district court decisions, the President’s Review Group’s (PRG) forty six recommendations, Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 28, and the 2014 State of the Union Address.

  • In Klayman v Obama Judge Leon found NSA’s bulk collection of US Persons’ metadata an affront to James Madison that must end.  Conversely Judge Pauley in ACLU v Clapper views NSA’s bulk collection of US Persons’ metadata as constitutional and necessary to protect American citizens from terrorist harm.  It would seem that both those supporting the NSA’s current collection practices and those who want them reined in will petition the US Supreme Court for a resolution if the US Government does not.
  • The PRG finds that NSA’s collection practices against US Persons are legal, well functioning and necessary to protect the US from terrorist attack but then confusingly presents 46 recommendations for making program more transparent and effective
  • In President Obama’s January 17th announcement of PPD-28 he ignored most of the PRG’s 46 recommendations but did say that that NSA’s collection of US Persons’ metadata will continue because it is legal and essential to national security.  The President then pivoted to the concerns of small government and privacy advocates, recognizing that NSA’s bulk metadata collection was open to abuses so it needed to be more transparent and rigorously controlled.  Reviewing the President’s remarks and the text of PPD 28 I find myself agreeing with Potomac Institute’s Mike Swetnam that the President may be setting the context for change, but in fact is changing very little (http://www.potomacinstitute.org/homepage/news-releases/2613-presidential-directive-misses-real-threat-to-publics-privacy-says-institute-ceo).  In a sound bite PPD 28 directs that a privacy advocate be part of the FISA process, that access to and use of US Persons’ metadata be more closely monitored and everything else needs to be studied
  • In his State of the Union Address on 28 January, the President spoke obliquely about security and surveillance in only two separate sentences:
    • I will reform our surveillance programs, because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated.
    • So even as we actively and aggressively pursue terrorist networks — through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners — America must move off a permanent war-footing.

While many have heartfelt opinions about the direction NSA collection should take, I believe it is fair to say given the outcome of a yet to be scheduled Supreme Court Case, unfinished executive branch studies, legislation still in formation, and an incomplete public debate that nobody can reasonably foresee what the state of NSA’s collection authorities will be this time next year.   A reasonable question that is sure to emerge though in 2014 is:  If America is shifting to a peacetime outlook why should the Patriot Act and its Section 215 authority that is the legal basis for NSA’s warrantless bulk collection of US Person metadata be renewed?

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

ICITE Observations

It seems I have taken October and November off for no apparent reasons other than my day job along with some pro bono work for the ODNI has taken up more time than I thought they would.  When I wrote my last edition of the MazzInt Blog defunding the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka ObamaCare) was the cause célèbre engaging the Congress as it was trying to avoid a government shutdown. They famously failed and now in the waning legislative days left before the winter holiday recess the Congress is again struggling to get some kind of budget deal in place before the current continuing resolution (CR) runs out on 15 January.  So far over the past two years I have not lost any money betting that the Congress will avoid hard budget choices and eventually agree to a CR with some adjustments.

In the mean time President Basher al Assad has agreed to the enforced destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons in order keep his regime in power and stem international support for the rebels.  Similarly, Iran has agreed to reduce its nuclear enrichment program for six months to get economic sanctions relief and put Israel in a position where it can’t militarily move against the Mullahs’ nuclear weapons program.  Then there is President Kharzhi refusing to sign the status of forces agreement necessary for residual US forces to remain in Afghanistan post withdrawal of combat forces at the end of 2014.  No worries, I am sure a few billion dollars in some kind of aid that he can personally tap into will get this all on track.  Meanwhile over the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend China established a controversial Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) of the East China Sea to thwart Japan from asserting control over the disputed Senkaku Islands north of Taiwan.  In classic Cold War fashion the US immediately challenged this new ADIZ by flying two B-52 (BUFs) into it for over two hours causing the PRC to establish active fighter aircraft patrols in response. This gets dicier when we deploy a carrier strike group into the East China Sea ADIZ and the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) responds with surface ships to interfere with flight operations.

Since the government reopened on 18 October though, the dominant national news story has been the botched rollout of Healthcare.gov so especially young healthy Americans could sign up for medical insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Both opponents and proponents of the ACA were amazed and dismayed that the Information Technology (IT) necessary to allow uninsured Americans to sign up for the President’s signature program literally did not work because of flaws in the design, development and testing of what is admittedly a complex web site.  This got me thinking about how the DNI’s signature IT initiative  – – –  Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE; pronounce “eye sight”)  – – –  is doing?  For the record, I view ICITE as essential for delivering an enterprise IT environment required to produce the high quality intelligence needed for decision superiority in the information age that is foundational to the IC remaining relevant.  As PDDNI Stephanie O’Sullivan says about ICITE:  failure is not an option!

In this spirit I have been listening since AFCEA’s Spring 2012 Intelligence Symposium to IC seniors (DNI, PDDNI, ODNI CIO, Agency Directors and CIO/CTO’s) talk about why ICITE is the critical path for moving the IC closer to the integrated end state that all agree with the DNI is necessary for producing better intelligence at lower costs.  What I have not heard any of these seniors say though, is why ICITE will succeed when recent IC IT enterprise efforts such as IC-MAP, GeoScout, Trailblazer, Horizontal Fusion, and JIVA failed to deliver on promised capabilities.  When asked this question IC seniors consistently answer along the following lines: IC leadership is fully committed to ICITE succeeding, budget pressures, and we have burned the boats/we have no other option/failure is not an option.  These bumper sticker responses, however, just reiterate the strategic importance of ICITE to the IC’s collective future without telling anyone how ICITE will avoid the pitfalls of size, cost, interoperability, security, schedule, and program management that got ICITE predecessors “over the breakers.”

But wait, the IC Deputies Executive Committee (DEXCOM) under the leadership of the PDDNI meets weekly to actively steer the direction of ICITE and neither IC-MAP nor those other programs ever had that!  I would feel more confident about the weekly involvement of the DEXCOM in ICITE if the Liberty Crossing II (LX II) “green door” was more transparent regarding decisions being made and the direction being given to individual IC agencies with ICITE Service Provider responsibilities.  Perhaps I have just not been paying attention, but I am not aware of any ICITE activity traceable to DEXCOM direction.  Then there’s the issue of an ad hoc committee of IC Deputy Directors with immediate personal and budget issues to deal with being the management team for a complex and technical effort like ICITE.  Seems like given its importance, running ICITE should be somebody’s full time job.

The DNI regularly describes ICITE as being about tagging the data and tagging the people so information and products can be shared and collaborated on securely across the IC.  Despite the DEXCOM’s prodding, ICITE technical standards for data tagging, security protocols, and identity management have yet to be agreed upon let alone tested.  The cost model for ICITE services and the processes for service providers to be reimbursed for the IT services they provide to other remains under consideration.  Since nothing has been promulgated in open channels, I am presuming ICITE’s acquisition strategy is classified, though I am not sure why it would need to be.  Given that ICITE is going to be developed and delivered as piece parts by individual IC agencies as service providers I am also wondering who/where/how it all gets integrated?  A testing plan for ICITE also needs to be developed, particularly in light of the Healthcare.gov experience.

In its current state and critical importance to IC mission accomplishment, ICITE in corporate speak seems to need an accelerated and vigorous “get fit” program before it can achieve its goals.  Not that anybody is asking (or going to ask) me, I would recommend that the IC DEXCOM direct a strategic pause in order to bring in subject matter experts from across the government (not just the IC) and industry to “RED TEAM” ICITE in order to discern what is working and why, as well as what is lagging and how to correct it.  What the IC doesn’t need is a Walter Pincus column on ICITE missteps or to be answering HPSCI and SSCI questions about why with its importance ICITE can’t deliver basic IT functionality such as Single Sign On (SSO), secure access to data based on identity, authorities, and permissions or is unable to deploy 100,000 Desk Top Environment (DTE) workstations in less than two years.

As the Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS) now knows, what the DNI can’t allow to happen is for intelligence agencies to be in the situation where ICITE is costing them more than they were spending on IT and providing less capabilities than they had before.  The Healthcare.gov experience is a warning shot across ICITE’s bow that should be heeded!

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

From the “Guns of August” to the “Serenity of September?”

Wow!  What an amazing 30 days going from the “Guns of August” to the “Serenity of September!”  Instead of discussing whether U.S. cruise missile attacks as punishment for Syria’s use of chemical weapons against rebels on 21 August would deter their future use or lead to a wider regional conflict, I am wondering why Assad chose to give up his chemical weapons in response to a Russian/US brokered United Nations Resolution.   Even more startling was Iran’s new President Russan Rouhani launching a “charm offensive” in the midst of Iran’s ally Syria bending to international pressure to give up its chemical weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).  In interviews with several western journalists, Rouhani said Iran was enriching Uranium for legitimate energy purposes and not for weaponization.  Relative to his predecessor, President Rouhani’s speech to the United Nations’ General Assembly was moderate and again eschewed the pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Within a day of this speech, Secretary of State Kerry met with his Iranian counterpart to discuss lifting sanctions against Iran in return for verification that Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program.  Then prior to departing New York for Tehran, President Rouhani’s agreed to a 15 minute telephone conversation with President Obama – the first time the leaders of both countries have spoken since the Carter Administration in 1979 when the Shah was in power!

Hallelujah!  Noble Peace Prizes for all our “friends” (i.e. Putin, Assad, and Rouhani).

So how did we get from the U.S. being backed into a trap between two bad choices of either not responding to Syria killing over 1,400 people with chemical weapons or launching an ineffective military response that the President said he would take only with the concurrence of the Congress?  My guess is that Vladimir made Bashar an offer that he along with his Iranian and Hezbollah cronies couldn’t refuse.  Since there is no way you can ever use chemical weapons again without the international community coming after you and your Alwite regime, why not give them up?  Russia will broker the a deal with the UN that will keep the U.S. and Israel out of Syria’s internal affairs regarding the turn over the weapons. Russia will also stand firm against any international action to take down the Assad government.   Rouhani and Hezbollah’s Nasrallah will endorse the deal and assure Assad they will help him win the civil war with the rebels so the “Assad Dynasty” can continue.  Everybody wins:  the U.S. gets Syria to give up its chemical weapons in response to a UN resolution without resorting to force; NATO doesn’t have to be concerned about supporting U.S. military action against Syria; Russia shows the world that it still matters while holding the line on the international community bringing about regime change;  Iran keeps one of its few allies; Hezbollah retains its Syrian sanctuary;  and Assad gets to stay in power – all because Syria agreed to turnover chemical weapons that it could never use again anyway!

OK, I suppose this could explain what is going on with Putin and Assad, but why is Iran overtly signaling at the same time its interest in discussing with the U.S. whether or not it will pursue nuclear weapons as Syria agrees to give up its chemical weapons?  Rather than events in Syria driving what Iran is doing they are just serving to have a megaphone effect on what Iran is trying to achieve.  I see Rouhani’s actions being part of an independent Iranian strategy to take advantage of the world stage provided by the annual opening of the UN General Assembly to change Iran’s standing in the world while protecting its nuclear weapons options.   First there are the economic sanctions Rouhani needs to get relief from before they create an “Arab Spring effect” in Persian Iran.  This means showing the world that he really does represent the moderate Iranians who legitimately elected him.  Next there is the important message that unlike his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Rouhani Administration wants Iran accepted as a rational player by the international community.   Then there is the potential that Iran is not as close to having a deliverable nuclear weapon as U.S. and Israeli intelligence believe them to be.  Finally, the Iranian religious leadership may also be recalculating the value of having nuclear weapons (where could they be used, to what effect;  would Iran’s Islamic Revolution survive the overwhelming retaliation in kind from their use; would U.S. containment of a nuclear Iran cripple Iran’s economy and regional influence?).  No matter; what Rouhani did achieve at the UN is to buy Iran time to keep the U.S. and Israel from acting against its nuclear program while talking about talks.  If sanctions are relaxed in order to reward Iran for being more moderate in tone without agreeing in a verifiable way to cease pursuing nuclear weapons then Rouhani will have accomplished a strategic success for the cost of being no more than polite and well behaved!

Of course, the serenity of September was violently pierced by a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard on September 16th that resulted in 13 dead and raised considerable concern about the “insider threat.”  Then there was the Nairobi Westgate Mall seizure/hostage situation between 21 and 24 September that saw 68 killed by al Shabab terrorists bringing to life again the fears about how committed radical jihadists can wreck havoc in urban areas with nothing more than automatic rifles.

While Aaron Alexis had no terrorist connections, al Qaeda will recognize, that as with Major Hassan at Fort Hood, insiders can access secure military bases with weapons and “punish” those they see as responsible for killing their jihadist warriors.  Even more chilling, the Nairobi Mall attack shows how local terrorists can make what is common place fearful to the point of negatively impacting quality of life and economic activity.

Perhaps law enforcement and intelligence assessments are correct that al Qaeda and its franchises like al Shabab or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are not capable of executing a Nairobi mall attack inside the U.S., but media headlines about the Washington Navy Yard shootings at least make me think otherwise.

That’s what I think; what do think?