Since we last gathered around the AFCEA URL, the President has nominated CIA Director Leon Panetta to be the next Secretary of Defense and named General David Patraeus to take over the CIA. In a surprising development neither Vice Chairman Marine General James Cartwright nor European Command Commander Admiral James Stavridis were selected to relieve Admiral Michael Mullen as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs - - - instead the President selected Army General Martin Dempsey, who has been Army Chief of Staff only since 11 April. Former DNI Denny Blair testifying before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs about the status of intelligence reform since 9/11 opined that
“As DNI, I could have led this process [intelligence reform] had I enjoyed the support of the President and his staff. However, their past experience, priorities, and the White House-centric style of national security governance never offered me the opportunity.”
Then there is the publication (apparently only meant for internal ODNI staff consumption) of the ODNI’s Mission, Vision, and Goals that articulates the importance of integration for insuring intelligence is timely, accurate and relevant but without reference to the 16 agencies of the IC. Of personal significance to me is the capture of Serbian General Ratko Mladic for war crimes associated with the Bosnia conflict. Some of you will know that when he was indicted back in 1996 I led the IC teamed charged with tracking him down. In case you are wondering ----- we knew where he was, but there was not the political will to get him.
As savory as each of these events is, they seem more like condiments relative to the elimination of Osama bin Laden on 01 May in an out of place three story safe house in Abbottabad near the Pakistani Military Academy! Apparently when the leader of Al Qaeda thought he could resist a Navy Seal Team they quickly killed him with a shot to the chest and another to the head. So what should the IC and those who depend on the intelligence it produces take away from this historic act of retribution for the East Africa Embassy Bombings, the attack on the USS Cole, and the devastation of 9/11?
Most importantly there should be no doubt anywhere inside the Beltway, across the United States, or around the world that the killing of bin Laden was a policy and operational success made possible by secret information that only the US IC could collect, process, analyze and share securely so it could be acted upon. Moreover this is not only good intelligence development leading to a successful operation; this is also an operational success that resulted in more actionable intelligence based on information recovered at the scene by the alert SEALS. I would also think that “you can run but you can’t hide” is now more than a bumper sticker to Taliban Leader Mullah Omar, Syrian President Bashard al-Assad, Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, or Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrahallah. This is all goodness!
Internal to the US, IC Operation “Neptune’s Spear” (as the taken down of bin Laden is known) is an unqualified (and needed) intelligence success. It is also fortunately timed to mute those who would question the value of maintaining intelligence capabilities as the nation makes difficult budget tradeoffs to deal with the national debt crisis. It is now more obvious to the American public that the IC can and does deliver intelligence that matters to the security of the United States
As meaningful as anything though, the military operation that led to bin Laden’s demise shows that sensitive intelligence can be securely shared and used for collaborative planning without compromise – both across the IC and with operational consumers. Contrast this with Operation “Eagle’s Claw” when the effort to rescue 53 American hostages in Tehran failed in a fiery crash of helo’s and C-130s at their Desert One Rendezvous point in central Iran. As a member of the afloat intelligence team when eight H-53 Sea Stallions launched in April 1980 from USS Nimitz, I can tell you first hand that we achieved operational surprise essential to the mission because of planning and rehearsals done in tight security silos. Besides not knowing who the other operational elements of the team where, there was no assurance that all elements were operating with the same intelligence knowledge. The first time all of the operational elements for Eagle Claw were in one place simultaneously was at Desert One were a stressful go/no go to Tehran decision had to be made by the on scene commander due to the loss of two H-53s as a result of mechanical failures caused by an en route sand storm. Contrast this with Neptune’s Spear, which ironically also lost a helo due to mechanical failure at bin Linden’s compound, where all operational units had been planning and rehearsing together based on the same intelligence information that was being integrated by the IC based on the needs of the operational units who would engage.
The intelligence sharing accomplished with air tight security puts the “intelligence success” that contributed directly to Navy Seals killing bin Laden into a more meaningful context for intelligence professionals. Neptune’s Spear shows that intelligence sharing is not mutually exclusive with operational security or protecting sensitive sources and methods - - - - unless you keep talking about how the intelligence to execute this mission was developed!That’s what I think; what do you think?