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?

I&W Cyber and Otherwise

Last month when we gathered around the browser, I was expressing my concerns about a “guns of October” scenario emerging in the Middle East and assuring you that I did not believe the attack in Benghazi on September 11 represented an intelligence failure.  Within days of posting, the conflict in Syria expanded to Turkey retaliating with cross border fire against Assad’s government forces.  Then on September 28th the DNI issued a statement clarifying that subsequent intelligence showed the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi was not a spontaneous reaction to the YouTube “Innocence of Muslims” film trailer but rather it was a planned terrorist attack meant to kill Americans and embarrass the United States (http://www.dni.gov/index.php/newsroom/press-releases/96-press-releases-2012/731-statement-by-the-odni-s-director-of-public-affairs-on-intelligence-related-to-the-terrorist-attack-on-the-u-s-consulate-in-benghazi).  As I started to write this edition, Secretary of Defense Panetta spoke at Business Executives for National Security (BENS) dinner on October 11th aboard the INTREPID Museum in New York City laying out the cyber threat to national security and how DoD is preparing to deal with it (http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1728).

It was inevitable that fighting between the Syrian Army and the Syrian Rebels in the northern cities of Idlib and Aleppo would bleed across the nearby Turkish border.  While Turkey may or may not be offering strategic sanctuary to the Syrian Rebels, it is likely that Bashar al Assad’s generals believe that Ankara is providing the rebels with more than moral support that is threatening the regime’s hold on power.  The continuation/expansion of armed conflict along the Turkish/Syrian border obviously has the potential for drawing NATO into this conflict in support of its member nation Turkey  – – – – which would cause Iran to come to the assistance of its Syrian ally with military equipment being provided behind the scenes by Russia, China and North Korea!  How dangerously reminiscent of the Cold War this is, but without the restraints of avoiding a strategic nuclear exchange between Moscow and Washington.  Presumably the IC has the right mix of collection and analytic capabilities spun up to warn America’s national leaders, diplomats and military commanders if and when Turkish national security interests are threatened by events in Syria.

Was DNI Clapper’s statement about the Benghazi Consulate attack, which resulted in the death of four Americans including our Ambassador, meant to protect the Office of the President  – – –  I hope so.  Was the statement politically motivated – – – I doubt it based on the person issuing it.  Most reading this understand that the media and both presidential campaigns are using “reports” and “intelligence” interchangeably when they should not.  As every young intelligence officer learns (usually from experience), “the first report is always wrong.” Director Clapper expanded on his official comment of 28 September by reminding  the GEOINT audience on 8 October that: (a) diplomacy is dangerous,( b) hindsight is cheap, (c) resources are limited; threats are not, and (d) the facts are never immediately known (http://geointv.com/archive/geoint-2012-tuesday-keynote-james-r-clapper-jr-director-of-national-intelligence/).   Based on my understanding of the limits of intelligence, I have seen nothing emerge yet to change my view that the Benghazi attack is more the result of a policy failure than an intelligence failure.  The 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the 1983 attack on the American Embassy in Beirut, the 1998 bombings of our embassies in East Africa, the mortaring of the Green Zone in Baghdad, the RPG’s fired at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul last year, and now the Benghazi consulate all make Clapper’s point about diplomacy being the most dangerous often where it is the most important.  This list, however, is a reminder at least to me that the IC’s ability to warn our diplomatic missions of impending physical threats has not improved markedly over time.  I am sure this lack of improvement relates directly to the exposed nature of embassies and consulates as well as the non-coherency of the indigenous threats to them, but it would seem that the focused collection and analysis related to force protection in Iraq and Afghanistan could now be used to better warn our diplomatic missions in harm’s way.

Two days after Secretary Panetta spoke to BENS about the increasing cyber threats to national security and what DoD is doing to deal with them, the Wall Street Journal reported there were clear forensics linking Iran with recent cyber attacks against U.S. banks and energy companies in Saudi Arabia (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444657804578052931555576700.html?KEYWORDS=Iran+cyber).  When I read this I remarked in a different venue that I can see the US and Iran (and probably others) entering into an opaque cyber cycle of attack and react that by necessity will include probing (ISR) and exploiting of each other’s cyber infrastructures.  The analogy for me here is “the war of the cities” during the Iran/Iraq war in the 1980s when both countries’ armies were worn out from attrition combat in the field and the war devolved into each side lobbing missiles into each other’s cities —— essentially making the war a distant fact to both sides’ military forces. As we move deeper into the information age it would seem that cyber will become increasingly the domain of choice for influencing the behavior of governments, militaries, non-government organizations, and multi-national conglomerates. I view this as an “inevitable surprise” because of the low cost of entry for high impact cyber effects, the challenges of attributing actions in cyber space, and the general oblivion by most people to the light speed transactions of “1’s” and “0’s” in cyberspace.

Given all of its experience combined with the robustness of platforms, sensors and analytical centers for doing ISR to accomplish Indications and Warning (I&W) in the physical domains, I am concerned about what capabilities the IC has developed to discern, characterize, attribute and warn about the current levels of threatening activity in cyber space.  If we are facing a “cyber space Pearl Harbor” as Secretary Panetta says then we don’t want to replicate the I&W missteps of 1941 today.

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

Bad Movies and Threats to CONUS

I started over Labor Day Weekend to write about my increasing concern about the escalating number of Green on Blue attacks in Afghanistan during August, and even though they are continuing, they seem to have receded in importance relative to raising level of violence in Cairo, the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens (along three other Americans) in our Benghazi Consulate, and anti American demonstrations in 20 other countries all triggered by the offense taken at an amateurish YouTube video that seems to mock the Prophet Muhammad.  As with the Danish cartoons from years past, Arab Muslims again seem to be looking for the opportunity to be offended so they can blame the West for what ails their societies.  Or perhaps there is latent Arab anger that the US never relented in its efforts to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice.  Meanwhile unrelated to the YouTube clip (it’s a trailer not movie) titled the “Innocence of Muslims” Assad is ramping up his violence against Syrian rebels offended by his secular dictatorial regime while Israel’s Prime Minister is publicly insisting the US articulate for all to know its conditions for taking military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons development program.

I don’t agree with the view expressed by some that the IC not warning of violent demonstrations at the American Embassy in Cairo or the attack on the Consulate in Benghazi represents an intelligence failure.  The political volatility in both Libya and Egypt seems to have been understood and conveyed by the IC; however, at least in Cairo the IC along with the news media continue to be challenged by extracting actionable intelligence from social media.

Last month I broached with you the potential for an October surprise or two from the international security scene that could impact our elections on November 6th.  Now I am more worried about the current level of political turmoil and violence in the Muslim world congealing into a “guns of October, November, or December” scenario.  To see how events can be connected recall how in December of 1988 PanAm 103 was destroyed over Lockerbie Scotland by Libyan operatives in response to the USS Vincennes misidentifying and missiling out of the sky over the Straits of Hormuz Iranian Airbus Flight 655 six months earlier in July.

Suppose President Morsi and/or the Egyptian Street becomes infuriated with Netanyahu’s Saber rattling against Iran’s nuclear weapons development program and abrogates the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty?   This could quickly lead to Palestinian violence in Gaza and the West Bank, Assad becoming even more ruthless against the Syrian population, the Afghani security forces killing more of their ISAF trainers, American Embassies/Consulates in Muslim countries being threatened continuously by mob violence, and Iran looking to disrupt shipping in the Persian Gulf increasing the opportunity for an armed engagement with the U.S. Fifth Fleet.  Any of these events or others could, of course, happen discretely resulting in different cascading effects  – – – –  all of which a war weary and economically stretched United States would have to respond to.

New York Times Correspondent Tom Shanker reported on 12 September that Joint Chiefs Chairman General Dempsey has been running a “Strategic Seminar” periodically at Quantico for senior military leaders looking at scenarios like this to shape military strategy and capabilities for 2017 (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/12/us/top-general-dempsey-maps-out-us-military-future.html?ref=thomshanker&moc.semityn.www), reminding me of the George Allen (Redskins’ Coach in the 1970s) mantra “the future is now!”  Not surprisingly, these “Strategic Seminars” are confirming that in the post 9/11 information era of conflict barriers to attack in the US homeland are considerably reduced – – – -be they terrorism, chemical/nuclear/biological/radiological (CNBR), or cyber – – – – – and the US military will have to deal with both defending the homeland as well as not having the continental United States (CONUS) as an unthreatened strategic sanctuary to flow forces from.

In a different take on the current situation Peggy Noonan contents that American Embassies under siege is something we should expect at a minimum as result of open conflict with Iran.  David Ignatius tells us he sees comparisons in Egypt today to the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 that brought the Mullah’s to power – – – – and inspired bin Laden.  What’s different now though is the lethality that militarily weak countries or politically motivated groups can direct toward CONUS without needing nuclear armed ICBMs to cause mayhem in the United States.

While the killing of 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001 at their place of work was the harbinger of what the Joint Chiefs are realizing they must be prepared to defend against (and why what’s happening now is so dangerous), the American people have been spared the horrors of sustained conflict in their communities since the conscripted Army of Vietnam and arguably not had their lives endangered by armed conflict since the American Civil War.  This makes me wonder how the American people are being advised of these clear and present dangers, but more specifically it reminds me that as a nation we remain conflicted about the convergence of domestic and foreign intelligence to protect our homeland as manifested in the Congress’ current inability to fashion a comprehensive cyber bill to protect our infra-structure.  In the meantime though there is much that the IC can do through enterprise collegiality  and best practices to warn of foreign threats to CONUS, which I trust is being done by going as far as the current laws will allow.

Given what we are experiencing right now it seems likely that we are going experience another attack on our homeland before we have the national debate called for by 9/11 Commission on how much of our civil liberties we are willing to trade for our security.  A denial of service attack against YouTube or its parent Google just feels like something we should be anticipating before Election Day.

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