How the IC will be Shaped (Changed?) by the Trump Administration

With all the news during the first week of March about Trump Administration contacts with Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and what the Intelligence Community did or did not know, it is easy to understand why the confirmation hearing for former Senator Dan Coats to be Director of National Intelligence (DNI) on February 28 drew such little notice.  Given President Trump’s Tweeter claims on March 4th that the Obama Administrations tapped his communications during the campaign and FBI Director Jim Comey along with former DNI Jim Clapper’s denials on 5 March that the Trump campaign was not targeted for surveillance, I think the immediate question is “why would Dan Coats still want to be DNI?”

If you watched or read the transcript of Dan Coats’ SSCI Confirmation Hearing it is hard to see it as anything but a friendly, non-controversial “home coming.”  For the most part the Senators thanked their former colleague for being willing to serve as DNI while lobbing softball questions with little push back or follow up to his talking point responses.  Two things former Senator Coats kept coming back to in responses to various questions was his commitment to follow the law in all situations and to be as transparent as possible.   https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/hearings/open-hearing-nomination-daniel-coats-be-director-national-intelligence

Nonetheless a few things stood out to me about this confirmation hearing:

  1. Coats’ flawed description of the DNI as an NFL Coach working with his coordinators and assistant coaches (IC agency heads) to produce a winning result.  Senator Coats did not mention that unlike an NFL Coach the DNI does not have hire/fire authority over his “coordinators” and “assistant coaches”  At least Senator Manchin made a polite and passing reference to this critical difference in authorities between the DNI and every NFL Coach.
  2. Coats defended the size of the ODNI noting it has less staff then there are musicians in DoD to do its important work of overseeing the intelligence community.  Former Senator Coats did agree that after 12 years a review of IRTPA is probably something worth considering and said he would start with the Robb-Silverman Commission Recommendations for where the law might be improved
  3. Coats did not share the concerns of several senators that the National Security Council Executive Order has not been modified to clarify that the DNI is a member of the Principals Committee.  He said the White House has assured him he will be invited to all Principal Committee meetings and he takes them at their word.
  4. Coats said nothing about the line reporting relationship between the DNI and the Director of CIA and all of the SSCI members were polite enough not to ask about it.
  5. Coats did not say nor was he asked about his position on government backdoor encryption access.
  6. Based on Coats’ opening statement and the Q&A, the open animosity between President Elect Trump and the Intel Community of just a month ago must have been “fake news” as it did not come up.
  7. In response to questions, Coats assured the SSCI he would support investigations into Russian involvement in trying to influence our past election as well as personal links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.  He also pledged to investigate/support other appropriate investigations into leaks associated with Russia.  He assured the committee he would insure the Congress is kept fully informed regarding these investigations.

 

Despite all the concerns in the media about whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians for political advantage or whether the Obama Administration used Intelligence Community (IC) resources to monitor the Trump campaign for political advantage, the Coats hearing got me thinking about how the IC will be shaped (changed?) by the Trump Administration.  Looking back at both recent history and what was said about the IC institutionally during the campaign I can foresee impacts for the IC across the following three broad areas:

Contracting and the Business Environment

Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) that have been occurring in the IC’s industrial base since 2015 will continue during the Trump administration, but at a slower rate.  This slowdown in M&A activity will be the result of three forces: (1) the diminished number of attractive companies left that are available for M&A consideration; (2) the debt loading taken on by companies that have merged or acquired other companies; and (3) lack of clarity about what changes to expect in the corporate tax code.

Because the Trump administration is populated with business people who are concerned about business metrics, (e.g., how the money is spent, with an emphasis on cost, performance and schedule), any IC programs that are behind schedule and underperforming will be in jeopardy. With an emphasis on performance, schedule and cost metrics, the IC will be looking for solutions vice full time equivalents (FTE, aka people) and using more automation to reduce cost. This is already manifesting itself with a hiring freeze and will impact what the distribution should be between blue and green badgers in the IC. Budgetary pressures will also cause the IC to look hard at what should be in-sourced or out-sourced, with an eye towards more “XXX as a service” procurements. FY 17 is expected to be flat, but industry is looking forward to business growth with anticipated FY18 national security plus ups.  Acquisition Reform seems unlikely, but “Other than Traditional Authorities (OTAs)” will be used more extensively to streamline and accelerate the acquisition process.

Organizational Change to the IC

Real change to the organization and processes of the IC requires Congressional legislation, which seems remote given the political capital this would take as well as the competition for scarce Congressional calendar days.  Immigration, healthcare, and tax reform will not leave much energy or time for IC structural reform over the term of the 115th Congress.  Because the Trump Transition team saw the ODNI staff providing an extra layer of bureaucratic management with little added value, this is an area I see the Trump Administration downsizing despite Dan Coats’ defense of the size of the ODNI staff in his opening statement at his confirmation hearing. An open question is which National Intelligence Centers does the Trump National Security Team see as worth preserving because of their independent ability as ODNI entities to integrate intelligence? Should they remain under the DNI?  While I am sure Senator Coats’ trust is well placed, the reality is that the White House’s lack of interest in modifying the NSC EO to include the DNI as a member of the Principals Committee suggests to me that the authorities of the DNI are not all that important to this administration.

Restoring Trust and Confidence in the IC

Perhaps through no fault of its own the IC has been caught up in a highly charged partisan debate between President Trump himself and whether the IC is being used to undermine his creditability as Commander in Chief.  Depending who you are listening to, allegations that the IC is withholding sensitive intelligence from the President, left a transparent trail of intelligence reports suggesting the Trump Campaign had ties to Russia, and  tapped the phones in Trump Tower, these claims are either baseless or disturbing.  I know I don’t know who or what to believe at this point.  The question now is not if an investigation of these allegations will be conducted, but who will conduct the investigation(s) and with what authorities?  What seems to be inevitable about any impending investigation is that the IC will looked at critically and depending on what is found (or not found) the IC could find itself on the threshold change as resulted from the Church Committee, the 9-11 Commission, and the Iraq WMD Commission.

There are too many known unkowns at least for me to even speculate what such an investigation will find, but my beltway common sense sensor tells me the IC has been too close to the partisan tumult for too long not to come out of this unbruised in some way.  Until whatever investigation(s) are completed the best things the IC can to do bolster its confidence and trust with the President, the Congress, and the American people is adhere to the tried and true advice of many others, which is: stay off the front page, focus on competence, and eschew involvement with policy decisions.  It is probably also worth remembering that a public battle with the President of the United States is more than likely a losing strategy for the IC because he is the only nationally elected figure in the government – – – – and he needs to be Customer # 1.

 

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

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ICITE for Breakfast

It seems everything old is new again.  This May Day weekend supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr were engaged in mass anti-government demonstrations in the Green Zone of Baghdad making me wonder if I was in a time machine taking us back to 2006.  I am not sure, but it does seem as though this time Iraq is about to balkanize itself into Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish cantonments.  Meanwhile in the Baltic, Soviet – – – excuse me Russian – – –  SU-24 Fencers have been buzzing a US Navy destroyer while SU-27 Flankers have been doing barrel rolls around US Air Force RC-135 electronic surveillance aircraft as Vladimir Putin marks his area of influence. How Cold War retro is this! In Syria the sham of a month old ceasefire ended violently as Assad forces bombed Aleppo’s al Quds pediatrics hospital supported by both Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross killing 50 on 29 April.  While it didn’t have far to go, Syria is back to the level of violence it experienced prior to the February 27 ceasefire.

Speaking of Syria I was surprised by what I heard on 26 April at an INSA/Defense One panel discussing ICITE.  At this breakfast event, ICITE was being touted for contributing to the Intelligence Community’s (IC) ability in August 2013 to assess in less than nine days that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’ was responsible for 1,500 being killed in chemical weapons attack on Damascus. (http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2016/04/future-intelligence-sharing-coming-together-syrian-war/127907/?oref=d-channelriver).  My surprise with this assertion was twofold.  First, that there were no more current IC successes that could be linked to ICITE than one that is over two years old.  Second, that anybody would be impressed with the IC (with or without ICITE) taking nine days to determine who was responsible for a heinous act that had already occurred.  More importantly, it seemed lost on the IC panelists discussing “the progress, challenges, and opportunities” associate with ICITE that the IC exists primarily to provide indications and warning (I&W) in advance of attacks like this so they can be deterred or prevented.  As we know in this case, the IC’s assessment about Assad’s use of chemical weapons resulted in the Obama Administration having to walk back from the “red line” it established with regard to the Syrian president’s use of these weapons.  I am still having trouble seeing the intelligence success here.

The panel of ICITE seniors also tacitly accepted Defense One’s survey data (https://fcw.com/Articles/2016/04/26/icite-metadata-nsa.aspx?s=fcwdaily_270416&p=1)

showing that ICITE (which is into its fourth year) is at least two to five years away (best case!) from being close to fully capable.  In terms of the Syrian Chemical Weapons attack example,  it is worth remembering that ICITE being fully capable means secure enterprise cloud connectivity for the big five IC agencies (CIA, NSA, NGA, NRO, and DIA) in the DC area and does not include State Department, DHS or the COCOMs.  With ICITE projected to be as much as five years away from being near full operational capability (FOC), I was discouraged to hear the panelists say that there is no formal technical road map for insuring ICITE’s currency or future direction, but rather by affirmative choice the ICITE Steering Group is relying on the commercial companies supporting the various ICITE Service Providers to keep ICITE technically up to date.  To me this means ICITE will never outpace the IT used by our adversaries to inform their decision making about us because they will be able buy state of the art IT quicker in the open market than the IC can through the federal acquisition process.

In his opening comments one of the panelist said he would grade ICITE to date as deserving a “B” with lots accomplished but more to do, particularly in terms of implementation and adoption.  He observed that governance in the areas of establishing data standards across the IC to maximize ICITE utility is still being worked as is developing the backroom processes for charge-back of ICITE services consumed.  Throughout the discussion about ICITE’s recent achievements (e.g., 50,000 DTE’s deployed over the past two years; the availability of AWS Market Place in Commercial Cloud Services, which lets developers and users to “pay by the drink” while they’re evaluating various software tools, development platforms and even entire operating systems), I did not discern any references to context, metrics, or impacts of these milestone accomplishments.  Throughout the panel discussion I thought I was in a time warp back to 2012 listening to ICITE seniors talking about the power of information integration that ICITE would enable with no specifics about schedules, funding, or metrics.

Given all this, plus the slow pace of deployment, I would probably grade ICITE at no better than a “C,” but I also understand that this 90 minute panel is just an incomplete snapshot of ICITE’s current state as well as its march toward creating a secure cloud enabled enterprise for integrating intelligence in a timely manner.  I suppose a case could be made for a grade of “incomplete,” but this would be unfair to the ICITE services (Commercial Cloud, GovCloud, DTE, Apps Mall, and Messaging) that have made it to initial operating capability (IOC), though more needs to be said about what these services mean for IC performance.

Subjective grades aside, with ICITE approaching its 5th anniversary as a new presidential administration comes to office with its own Director of National Intelligence (DNI), it doesn’t seem  inaccurate to say “ICITE is on the Clock” to show that it can enable the delivery of meaningful intelligence inside of our adversaries’ decision cycle.  If I am correct here, then I believe this summer is the right time for the IC to do a zero based review of ICITE aimed at keeping what is working, killing what is not, and accelerating so that ICITE FOC is closer to two years out rather than five.  ICITE needs a new sense of urgency!

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

 

 

 

 

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT

President Obama announced today (July 14th) that the P5+1 Group (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany along with the European Union) concluded a long-term comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran that will “verifiably” prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be for peaceful uses for at least the next 10 years in exchange for economic sanctions relief. Given all the dueling rhetoric in the media from politicians, foreign leaders, and cable news pundits, I don’t know if this deal is a good one or not.   What I will say, though, is my calculus for judging the merits of this agreement is whether the sanctions relief are enough to cause Iran to stop spinning its centrifuges in order to suspend its development of nuclear weapons.  So, rather than dive into the political pool of polemics about whether or not this agreement puts U.S. national security at risk, what I would prefer to explore with you is the impact I see this agreement with Iran having on the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC).

Most obvious is the stress the agreement puts on the IC that it can detect (and if need be verify) with national technical means whether Iran is cheating.  Or stated differently, that the IC has the ability independent from international inspectors to warn policy makers authoritatively and in a timely manner of Iranian non-compliance.  The President and Secretary of State clearly have confidence that the IC can effectively monitor any steps Iran takes to covertly continue its nuclear weapons program.  Skeptics, though, will immediately point to the 2002 Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) on Iraq’s nuclear weapons capabilities as proof that such confidence in the IC is not deserved.  The strategic concern is that Iran will cheat and we won’t know it until it is too late.  The burden is clearly on the IC to at least neutralize, if not convince, naysayers that it has the technical capabilities and analytical skills to effectively monitor Iran’s nuclear activities.  In this regard the IC has its track record of verifying arms agreements with the Soviet Union/Russia to fall back on.

As the plot line is being written for the Congressional hearings on the nuclear accord with Iran, the IC in the person of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Jim Clapper will be cast in a no-win position by both supporters and opponents of this agreement.  The IC will certainly be expected by all sides in both open and closed hearings to document the Islamic Republic of Iran’s anti-American policies dating back to 1979, its number one ranking as the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world, its current role in disrupting Iraq, its willingness to trade oil for arms with North Korea, its animosity towards Saudi Arabia and Israel as well as the covertness of its nuclear activities over the last decade.  The IC should also be expected to give an accounting of its capabilities to monitor Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement negotiated in Vienna.  Here opponents of the accord, which will include Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) Chairman Richard Burr and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) Chairman Devin Nunes, will be interested in having the DNI explain the inherent limitations of intelligence so as to cast doubts on the IC’s abilities to inform policy makers in a timely manner whether Iran is cheating or not.

If the DNI expresses “high confidence” that the IC will be able to discern Iranian compliance as well as non-compliance, he will be quickly reminded of  Director Central Intelligence (DCI) George Tenet’s [in]famous “slam dunk” assurance that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Alternatively, if the DNI attempts to manage expectations by saying he has “reasonable confidence” in the IC’s abilities to monitor Iran’s nuclear developments, he will be seen by many as confirming the limits of what the IC can do and will be characterized as “uncertain.”

Those who watch the IC closely will also be looking to see if DNI Clapper’s National Intelligence Mission Managers (NIMMs) construct for “integrating” intelligence from across the community is up to the task of detecting and warning if Iran does not meet its commitments under this agreement.  The Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA’s) ongoing reorganization into 10 integrated mission centers will also get an early test as it works to keep IC Customer #1 up to speed on Iranian compliance/non-compliance with this agreement as well as on Tehran’s future intentions regarding nuclear weapons.  Should Iran cheat and it not be detected in a timeframe that matters, this will be perceived as a strategic intelligence failure not unlike Pearl Harbor, 9/11, or the 2002 assessment that Iraq possessed WMDs – all of which lead to damning external reviews of the IC’s performance and then to major overhauls of the IC.

So while people are trying to figure out if this nuclear agreement with Iran is or is not in line with America’s national security interests, I have little doubt that this agreement just made the job being the DNI significantly more difficult – along with the NIMMs for Iran, Warning, and Science & Technology.  Success is expected; however, failure will not be tolerated!

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