Live from GEOINT in Tampa

I am writing this edition of the Mazz-INT blog in Tampa Florida where I am excited to be for the delayed version of GEOINT 13.  As with past GEOINT’s I am looking forward to hearing from the leadership of the Intelligence Community (IC) regarding both the current state of the community and where it is going in the future as needs increase and resources diminish.  I expect the CentCom and SoCom Commanders to expound as demanding users on what they need from the IC.  I am also anxious to see in the GEOINT exhibition hall what new technologies the IC’s industrial base will have on display that can improve intelligence performance while reducing costs.  Then there will be the free flow of networking between members of government and industry that is essential to building trust so that the IC can procure from the private sector efficiently and with confidence.  This is something that often doesn’t happen in the national capital region because of the grind of daily schedules and the tyranny of traffic.  Since the budgetary demise of DoDIIS and numerous other regional and agency specific “trade shows,” GEOINT takes on added importance of “keeping the lights on” as an open forum for the IC to communicate with and learn from all in industry who believe they have something of value to offer the IC for the defense of our nation.  The Intelligence and National Security Summit coming up on 18-19 Sept and co-sponsored by AFCEA and INSA, is another event in this category.

Turning to some of those issues the IC is dealing with today in real time, I don’t believe any of us are surprised that Russia’s annexation of Crimea is a fait acompli and the open question now is whether the eastern Ukraine will become federalized or fully incorporated by Moscow.  Media reporting in April augmented by U.S. State Department and NATO warnings of “serious consequences” indicate those pro-Russians Ukrainian militias are storming government offices in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv.  What is clear from events in March and so far in April is that neither the United States nor the major powers in the European Union have in combination sufficient power or the will to dissuade Vladimir Putin from acting on what he sees as Russian national interests in the Ukraine.  Over time, of course, Russia’s actions to reattach the Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine by force will lead to Putin being “shunned” by the international community while on the economic front most will seek alternatives to doing business with or in Russia.  Sounds like Russia before Peter the Great, but with ICBMS!

I also notice that to get the suspended Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track the idea of exchanging convicted Israeli spy Jay Pollard was floated to encourage the Netanyahu Government to make a meaningful concession to the Palestinians.  I am not conversant enough with the positions of either Israel or Palestine to know what a meaningful comprise capable of advancing the moribund peace process would be, but I do know that I am tired of Pollard’s seemingly annual “15 minutes of fame” about why he should be released because he has served sufficient time for his crimes.  NO HE HASN’T!  But unlike most of my peers in Naval Intelligence I view Pollard as a diminishing asset who should be traded for concessions important to the United States (e.g. stop building settlements) while he still has trading value. Though I delight in the thought of Jay Pollard wasting away in quasi-solitary confinement in a North Carolina federal prison, I am at loss to see how this is advancing larger U.S. national security interests, which at least for me include holding Israel accountable for sponsoring his espionage.  What actually concerns me the most, however, is the martyrdom of Pollard and the potential that he could be paroled on the basis of time served under current federal prison guidelines.

Speaking of Israel, did you see where former Air Force A2 Dave Deptula suggested transferring a few B-52G’s from the U.S.’s retired inventory to the Israeli Air Force as way of getting Iran’s attention to be serious in its negotiations about not pursuing nuclear weapons.  I am sure many would see providing Israel this kind of strategic offensive reach as bordering on brinkmanship, but I know I like the way Dave is thinking.  Of course, just reminding the Mullah’s in Tehran that this option exists should by itself refocus them on the value of negotiations and how a nuclear Iran changes the strategic calculation in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

Come to think of it it’s probably time to remind Vladimir Putin as well as our NATO allies of the strategic reach of the United States as a Russian SU-24 fighter bomber buzzed the USS Daniel Cook while steaming on a freedom of navigation mission in the Black Sea.  To complement ratcheting up economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia for the annexation of Crimea the U.S. Navy should be noticeably directed as result of the Daniel Cook incident on 14 April to deploy three medium to small amphibious ships protected by two Aegis equipped destroyers to the Black Sea for “familiarization ops” that would include a port call in Constanta, Romania. Then the AF could covertly circumnavigate the Black Sea with a B-2 Spirit and if Russian Air Defense did not detect the flight the White House could release undisputable evidence of this mission to embarrass President Putin’s ability to protect Russia from U.S. strategic forces.

Finally, I want to touch on the Heartbleed issue which raises the difficult question about the whether the IC should be warning U.S. entities (corporations and individuals) outside of government to threats that endanger their security and wellbeing.  Some will recall that post 9/11 the question was raised but not answered because it was moot as to whether or not the IC should risk sensitive sources and methods to protect the American flying public with warnings of creditable threats to hijack commercial airliners.  Here the question is about whether NSA and/or DHS should be more interested in exploiting cyber vulnerabilities like Heartbleed or more concerned about protecting  American citizens from economic if not physical harm from dangerous malware.  In today’s current environment of the public’s diminished confidence and trust in the IC the answer seems to be a “no brainer” for me at least.  The IC needs to be actively seeking opportunities where it can demonstrate not what it is doing “to” the American people (i.e. collecting of their telephone metadata without a warrant) but what intelligence can do “for” all Americans to insure that they have the opportunity to enjoy “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness!”

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

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The Future is Now?

There is no doubt that the situation in the Ukraine where Russian political and economic interests are pitted against those of Western Europe, and by extension to the U.S., is the most serious confrontation with Russia since the war in Kosovo.

I am amused, however, by the dust-up during the first week in March about whether the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) provided adequate and timely warning that Putin would insert military force into the Crimea.  A vague sense of history coupled with “breaking news stories” should have told anyone even casually following events in Kiev that once Putin’s cohort President Viktor Yanukovych  was pushed from power there was a strong likelihood that Russia would use military force to “stabilize” the situation in what it believes is its sphere of influence.  Russia’s modern history of military intervention in its near abroad, whether under the Brezhnev Doctrine or otherwise, is long and undistinguished:  Hungry (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968), Poland (1980) Afghanistan (1979), Chechnya (1994 & 2000), and Georgia (2008).

Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that the IC didn’t warn; to the contrary, I agree completely with DNI Clapper’s observation that we have all seen real intelligence failures and the IC’s coverage and warnings regarding developments in the Ukraine were timely and appropriate (http://www.wtop.com/215/3577171/Clapper-Ukraine-intelligence-not-a-failure).  Moreover, policy makers and military commanders did not have to rely on intelligence reports only as there were also plenty of warnings about Russia moving against Crimea in the media.  How many of you without access to classified intelligence reporting were surprised by Russian forces showing into Crimea without resistance?

Given the “common wisdom” of both the intelligence and open source reporting about the Ukraine and the Crimea, if I were the J2 at EUCOM I hope that I would have detailed an analyst or two to ferret out the indicators that the Russians would not move militarily into the Ukraine to make sure that the CoCom’s intel team could provide the staff with a balanced view of events and options based on intelligence empiricals.  If any intelligence service was surprised, though, it appears to be Putin’s who failed to see the strategic direction that political events in the Ukraine were taking.

Nonetheless, any controversy about U.S. IC warning performance post-Yanukovych’s departure just diverts attention from the hard problems facing the IC on the Ukraine.  There are at least two parallel but related issues I believe policy makers need immediate accurate intelligence on.  The first is who are the likely new political leaders in Kiev and are they capable of governing?  There is also the question of what form any “opposition” will take in the new Ukrainian government.  The second is what is Putin likely to do next?  Is the annexation of Crimea by Russia now inevitable?  If it is, what does that mean for the region?  If it is not what can be done to prevent the Crimea from becoming Russian territory again? Following close behind the importance of political developments in Kiev and the Crimea will be salient intelligence regarding the views of allies, neutrals, and adversaries in the region.  What policy makers won’t need is IC inputs on Putin’s potential course of actions, but rather insights from unique intelligence sources (i.e. real secrets) regarding what actions he is likely to take and the reactions they will cause in Kiev, Moscow, Brussels, Berlin, Ankara, Tehran,  Beijing, and whatever cave Ayman al-Zawahiri is operating from.

As the IC rallies to provide predictive intelligence on the Ukrainian situation it should be able to slew remote technical collection to the region, but the IC will find its tactical focus on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 means it won’t have collectors or analysts as familiar with their targets as they would like or need to be.  The IC will need to accept the reality that there is no “fast forward” button for experience.  Certainly we won’t have the HUMINT capability in place to provide its unique perspective on unfolding events – – – particularly who’s in and who’s out in Ukrainian domestic politics. Additionally the “rebalance to the Pacific” of US national security policy is at least a short term casualty as Defense, State, and the IC focus on the Ukraine while we continue working the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.

Ironically, Russia introducing forces into the Crimea 72 hours before the release of the President’s Defense Budget for FY 2015 served to make the budget look as if it is detached from reality and un-executable.  Secretary of Defense Hagel’s position is that the budget assumes prudent risks now (i.e. cuts in force strength) so that the U.S. military can be a more balanced, capable, and ready in the future.  Current events in Crimea, along with China’s maritime aggressiveness in the South and East China Seas, North Korea’s continuing threat to stability in East Asia, Al Qaeda’s resurgence, and Iran’s unclear nuclear ambitions, however, are all shouting “the future is now.”

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

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?