This is my sound bite take away from what was certainly an event filled if not significant week (July 19-23) for the Intelligence Community (IC).
It is probably not happenstance that the Washington Post ran its almanac facts without context three part investigative “TOP SECRET AMERICA” story on the IC (July 19, 20, & 21), the same week the Senate Select Committee for Intelligences (SSCI) surprisingly relented to political pressure and quickly scheduled a confirmation hearing (July 20th) on Jim Clapper to be the fourth Director of National Intelligence (DNI). When I read the Post’s breathless cries about how much money the IC is spending, which Secretary Gates knew was coming, I immediately understood why the Secretary of Defense decided not to lecture the Baker Dinner audience on the need for the IC to rein its spending. He knew that the Post story and the resulting commentary generated would make this point better than he could ------ and not cost him any political capital. Finally, in a touch of irony, General Stanley McCrystal awkwardly retired from the Army on 23 July. I am not sure why Thursday July 22nd was devoid of any IC stories of import!
Since I thought I would just be discussing General McCrystal’s self inflicted forced retirement after Rolling Stone reported in June that U.S. officers in the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) commanding general’s inner circle were prone to “trash talking” about senior civilian engaged with executing America’s Afghanistan Counter-Insurgency Strategy , lets dispatch with that first.
It is now old news that General McCrystal had to resign for tolerating if not creating a command environment that was tone deaf to its mocking of civilian colleagues if not superiors. What seems to have been lost in the fixation about whether the President should relieve the ISAF Commander and subsequent decision to replace General McCrystal with General Patreaus is the apparent reality that the country team in
Instead, Dana Priest and William Arkin ominously warn the Washington Post readership in “Top Secret America” that spending on intelligence has doubled since 9/11 and there are 854,000 Americans holding Top Secret security Clearances. These are examples of facts without context that make up most of this one installment story stretched into three, that missed the opportunity to explore more serious questions such as :
Ø Is the balance right between intelligence collection and civil liberties for today’s threat environment?
Ø How much should the nation invest in intelligence? What portion can/should be outsourced?
Ø How effective has the investment since 9/11 in intelligence been; what metric are or should be used to measure this?
Ø Is the IC organized properly to meet
Had “Top Secret America” spent more time relating it’s litany of mostly well known facts about the IC to issues like these then it might be worthy of Pulitzer Prize consideration the Washington Post seems to want so much.
Unfortunately neither General Clapper nor his SSCI interlocutors seemed very interested in either a metaphysical discussion about whether the nation has the IC it needs after years of investment or a pragmatic review of what the business case is for the IC it has. There were lots of questions and answers about the Post’s reporting, but there was no more effort put forth by Clapper or the SSCI than by Priest and Arkin to provide context or discuss the relevance of the numbers reported. Probably good politics for all concerned, but about as informative as a confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court Justice.
We did, however, “learn” that one man’s redundancy is another man’s competitive analysis, but as with Priest and Arkin I remain confused regarding whether the IC has too much or too little “competitive analysis” let alone why competitive analysis is important. Regarding the authorities of the DNI, Jim Clapper told the Senators he does not “intend to be a hood ornament,” but I missed the part where he either explained or someone followed up with why he would be more effective in “directing” the IC than his three predecessors were. Does anyone believe John Negroponte, Mike McConnell, or Denny Blair wanted to be an IC hood ornament?! Senator Bond went so far as to rhetorically ask why this confirmation hearing was not for John Brennan, who appears to be running the IC from his position of Deputy National Security Advisor in the White House! The unmentioned elephant in the hearing room was the devolution of the DNI into being the ceremonial IC “head of state” who delivers the morning intelligence brief to the President, cuts ribbons at new facilities and is immediately available “to be held accountable” by the White House, Congress, or media for any IC failings. What seemed to be of most concern to the Senators was that Jim Clapper would exercise strong leadership over the IC in ways other DNI’s could not, but that he would also meekly comply with all Congressional requests for intelligence reporting no matter how sensitive or raw. General Clapper assured them he would be both, with no one noticing the inherent contradiction.
Beyond a week of media provided theater, is there anything of merit that can be taken from our intelligence experience in
That’s what I think; what do think?