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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The DNI at 10: Are We Safer or Just Lucky?

It will be a few days before you see this, but I am writing on December 7th, which has special meaning for me because of my career as a Naval Intelligence Officer. The failure to warn, despite a variety of indicators that became clear after this Day of Infamy in 1941, resulted in the formation of the modern Intelligence Community with the National Security Act of 1947.  The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was created, well, to centralize intelligence so it would not be fragmented across the Army, Navy, State Department, FBI, War Department, and the Pacific Fleet as it was in the weeks leading up to the Japanese air assault on Pearl Harbor.

In advance of similar findings by the 9-11 Commission, the Pearl Harbor Commission (aka the Roberts Commission) as well as numerous books (my favorites are Gordon Prange’s “At Dawn We Slept and Eddie Layton’s “And I Was There”) based on archival material found that for a variety of security and bureaucratic reasons critical pieces of intelligence were not put into a mosaic.  Such a mosaic, though incomplete, would have provided President Roosevelt, General Short, and Admiral Kimmel sufficient grounds to launch the fleet if for no other reason than to make sure that Japan’s six unlocated aircraft carriers were not approaching the Hawaiian Islands.

In similar fashion, the 9-11 Commission also found that the Intelligence Community (IC), which had grown from five to 15 members since 1947, possessed a myriad of intelligence leads that if viewed as a composite probably would have given the federal government the warning needed to disrupt the fatal attacks on New York and Washington.  Following the pattern of 1947, the Congress (though this time with the ambivalence of the Executive Branch) decided that the IC needed stronger central leadership to insure that all the information the IC had on threats to national security would be shared across the IC and analyzed holistically.  Consequently, the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) was created in December 2004 with the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act (IRTPA) joining the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which was established in November 2002.  The Congress’ intention for both of these new organizations was to make America safer through centralized management and decentralized execution of intelligence and homeland security functions.

Channeling Inspector “Dirty Harry” Callahan let me ask you,  “so in all the confusion from the 9-11 attacks, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the change of administrations, the Arab Spring, civil war in Syria, ISIS beheadings, and terrorist attacks abroad in the 10 years since the DNI was established:  do you feel safer punk or just lucky?”  This past October a University of Texas conference in Austin titled “Intelligence Reform and Counterterrorism after a Decade: Are We Smarter and Safer?” took an organized, dispassionate look at the effect of the DNI on national security and I think reasonably concluded that yes we are smarter about the threats that confront us, and yes we are safer; but we are not smart enough nor are we safe enough.

The disruption of several plots preventing other high casualty attacks in the Continental United States (CONUS) is at least circumstantial evidence that the investment in the DNI as a government entity is worthwhile because it has kept us safe.  But this begs the obvious question of whether it is the existence of the DNI or the doubling of both the size and budget of the IC since 9-11 that has resulted in no successful attacks on the homeland.  Of course, what neither the bureaucratic reality of the DNI nor the quantitative plus up of the IC’s budget has stemmed is the multitude of threats facing the United States from ISIS, the rise of Russia, the assertiveness of China, Iran’s nuclear intentions, the unpredictability of North Korea, disease and failed states in Africa, the potential of a radicalized Pakistan, a migration/immigration crisis on our southern border, the increasing lethal potential of “lone wolf” attacks, insider threat potential, and cyber vulnerabilities everywhere.  DNI Jim Clapper refers to this reality when he says in all of his public appearances that the current threat environment “is the worse he has seen during his 53 years in the IC.”  In a sound bite “the world is even more dangerous today than it was in 2001.”

For me this is reminiscent of the first 10 years of the CIA, when the Soviet Union changed from a country ravaged by World War II to a nuclear superpower presenting an existential threat to the United States.  Certainly the existence of the CIA didn’t make Soviet Russia into a super power but it did provide the organizational means for centralizing resources for collecting and analyzing intelligence about the capabilities and intentions of the USSR that enabled America’s dual strategies of containment and mutual assured destruction (MAD).  The world today is not bi-polar anymore so the important role of the DNI is not so much the centralization of IC resources against a monolithic threat, but rather allocating IC resources for dealing with an expanding threat environment resulting from a multi-polar globalized world that is increasingly empowered by (and dependent upon) information technology (IT) that is becoming less expensive and more capable every 18 months.

So this punk’s answer to Inspector Callahan’s question is not one he would accept as “I am not sure if the US is safer today or has just been lucky.”  We have enjoyed the benefits of both a stronger IC along with some good luck.  I am, however, reasonably certain that the DNI position will endure and therefore remain in position to shape the IC for how it prepares and organizes itself for the threats the IC projects to US security.  Yes, to be more effective I would like to see the ODNI staff shrunk dramatically to only numbers needed to support DNI decisions regarding how resources should be apportioned to threats and lead responsibilities assigned to deal with them.  Moreover, I believe a DNI as CEO for the IC conglomerate would increase accountability and reduce our dependence on luck for keeping our nation safe from attack.

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

Just Another Weekend in November — Hardly!

There was a Symposium in Austin during mid-October sponsored by University of Texas’ Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law as well as UT’s Clements Center for History, Strategy & Statecraft  and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) that I thought I would be writing about.   This two day event looked at the now 10 year history of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism, Prevention Act (IRTPA) and asked: as a nation “are we smarter or safer?”, but there are more pressing issues involving the Intelligence Community (IC) that I want to get to while they remain newsworthy.

The weekend after the Congressional mid-term elections, where exit polling showed the electorate sending an unmuffled message that they are out of patience with the Legislative and Executive Branches’ inability to compromise on political positions in order to govern, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper was dispatched by the President to Pyongyang to secure the release of two American citizens incarcerated by the North Koreans.  According to news reports, James Clapper was purposely selected because of his familiarity with Korea as well as the fact that the DNI positon reports directly to the President but conveys no sense of a diplomatic opening to North Korea.  DNI Clapper did, however, deliver a message from President Obama to Kim Jung Un through the North Korean General Officer serving as the emissary for the release of the two Americans.

Beyond the good news of there now being no Americans in North Korean prisons, this mission conveyed some needed positive press and prestige on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) that I am happy to see.  If nothing else it says to the Congress as well as the international community that DNI Clapper has the trust and confidence of the President.  The more important strategic question raised by the release of these two Americans that the IC needs to answer is what is motivating North Korea to be so accommodating?  According to DNI Clapper the North Koreans were expecting the US to reciprocate with some type of diplomatic exchange and/or accommodation.

Despite my lack of expertise on the People’s Democratic Republic Korea, I remain unconvinced that “Boy Leader” Kim Jung Un (KJU) is actually running the government.  My evidence is tenuous but an undated photo of KJU touring a public housing project is not enough to convince me he remains in power after a falling from sight for six weeks that included missing a major communist party event.  Diplomatic protocol is probably the answer for why there were no photo opportunities for KJU with the released Americans, but why miss the internal and external propaganda value of showing the beneficence of the regime’s dynastic leader?  KJU not making any public appearance or statements while DNI Clapper was in country (or since he left) suggests to me that the “Boy Leader” has become a “Pyongyang spectator with gout!”

Meanwhile in Iraq during this same weekend, American intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) found and fixed for strike aircraft an ISIS Leadership Convoy traveling in the Mosul area.  The air strike heavily damaged the convoy and according to Iraqi media reporting ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed or injured during the attack.  Curiously (at least to me) ISIS has not denied these reports and Baghdadi has not been seen since the air attack on this convoy.  A Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman has confirmed that US forces were aware that this was an ISIS leadership convoy, but there was never any intelligence indicating Baghdadi was traveling with this group.  On November 13 ISIS released a 16 minute voice recording presumably demonstrating that Baghdadi was alive and in charge.  The tape has not yet been confirmed to be Baghdadi and begs the question with the Iraqi media reporting his demise why an audio instead of a video tape (is the ISIS leader injured?).  Given that we have unconfirmed Iraqi news reports that Baghdadi is dead or injured and an as yet unconfirmed ISIS voice recording of Baghdadi imploring followers to “erupt volcanoes of jihad everywhere,” the obvious intelligence issue at hand is learning what Baghdadi’s status is. As I am preparing to post this, ISIS has beheaded another American it says in part because of the US lead bombing campaign continuing.

As this ISIS leadership convoy was being bombed, the White House was announcing that President Obama is authorizing the deployment of 1,500 additional military advisers to Iraq to fortify the Iraqi Army’s effort to retake territory ISIS has seized since last spring.  My immediate reaction was air strikes and advisors to support a non-inclusive Shia government and an Army that doesn’t want to fight sounds a lot like the way we started in Vietnam. If the US has national interests at stake that demand both a stable Iraq and defeated ISIS then send enough forces (100,000?) to accomplish these ends.  Not seeing these national interests, my preference is to let the Iranians and the Kurds with US intelligence, arms, and air strikes “degrade and defeat” ISIS.  As for Iraq, I have said previously in this venue that I don’t believe the US has enough military manpower or treasure to prevent Iraq from fractionating back to the Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish regions that existed in Mesopotamia before the British Mandate created the artificial state of Iraq in 1920.  It is time for Washington to stop arguing about the justification for and execution of the latest Iraq War (2003 – 2011), as well debating whether the withdrawal of US forces in 2011 was premature and put the idea of a continued ground combat force there in the rear view mirror – before the American people send this message via the ballot box.

Over this same post mid-term election weekend,  Navy Times reported that the Pacific Fleet’s outspoken Intelligence Officer was relieved for remarks that he made last February at WEST 2014 postulating that the Chinese Navy (PLAN) was preparing for a naval war with Japan.  While this is neither an IC, Navy or National position, the Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Harry Harris was aware in advance of what his intelligence officer was going to say and after the comments were made about the PLAN’s growing capabilities and China’s intentions, Admiral Harris did not “walk back” what was said nor attempt to put the remarks “into a broader context.”  The “China Hawks” in the retired naval intelligence community immediately surmised that the PacFleet N2 was being sacked for speaking the “truth” about PLAN threat and intentions as a gesture of goodwill to his hosts before President Obama arrived in Beijing for the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC).  Besides having it on good authority that the Pacflt N2’s relief was related to internal staff issues and not his remarks about the PLAN at WEST 2014, I suspect the Chinese would have preferred to have learned quietly from President Obama while he was in China that this naval intelligence officer would be quietly retired vice being publicly removed and opening up a political controversy as to whether or not he was right about the PLAN seeking a naval war to establish its hegemony in the Easter Pacific.

Wrapping up, on November 3rd Robert Hannigan, the new director of GCHQ accused social networks and other online services of becoming “the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals.”  Mr. Hannigan went on to say in this Financial Times OpEd that security services in the UK and the US cannot discover and disrupt terrorist threats without greater support from the private sector, “including the largest US technology companies which dominate the web.”  As with the Clipper Chip controversy in the 1990s, Hannigan appears to be offering the tech giants in the US a Hobbesian choice between meeting government expectations about access to information for national security purposes and customer concerns about their information technology (IT) providers enabling government access to their personal information.  While I agree with Mr. Hannigan that “the right to privacy is not absolute” and with Justice Jackson that the Constitution is not a suicide pack, I don’t recall either the Director of GCHQ or the Director of NSA calling on the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s to not encrypt so much information so the UK and US could tap into Soviet command control networks in order to protect liberal western democracies from the threat of nuclear attack.

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