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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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?

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?