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WHAT PRESIDENT OBAMA SHOULD ASK HIS DNI ON DAY ONE

Monday, December 15, 2008
Joe Mazzafro

Before getting into what I believe the next DNI should focus on, I suppose its worth considering briefly why President Elect Obama did not name his Director of National Intelligence (DNI) or CIA Director along with the rest of his National Security team on 30 November.  According to informed reporting, retired Admiral Denny Blair was slated to be named DNI and John Brennan-- current CEO of TAC, Clinton PDB Briefer, first NCTC Director, and senior Intelligence advisor to the Obama campaign – Director of CIA.  According to unconfirmed second hand insider reports, Denny Blair's nomination is being reconsidered because the Obama Transition Team is concerned about establishing the DNI as a military position.  Just a few days before the President Elect introduced his national security team, John Brennan publicly announced he was withdrawing his name from consideration for any senior IC post so as not to be a "distraction" to the new administration because of concerns raised by a coalition of 200 psychiatrists about his tacit acceptance of "enhance interrogation techniques" while at CIA.  In my view these are inconsequential reasons for denying our next President and the IC the service of two outstanding individuals who would be ready to lead the IC from the moment of confirmation.

So while we wait for the next DNI to be named, let's explore in a cursory way what President Obama's Senior Intelligence Officer (SIO) should have on his agenda regardless of who is designated.   Based on the advice of National Security Advisor Jim Jones, I suspect President Obama will charge his DNI to make sure the President has the intelligence needed to insure the security of the United States AND that the DNI keep the IC under control so this administration is not embarrassed by any abridgements of civil liberties or human rights.  If the "book" on Barak Obama is close to right,  insuring that IC does not embarrass the United States in general or this administration in particular will be a serious and important charge to the next DNI after the recent controversy associated with warrantless wiretaps and allegations of torture… if the new DNI wants to keep the job.

To be a little more specific, here are a number of questions – and my answers – I would like to imagine President Obama asking his DNI in order to learn more about where the DNI stands as well as about the IC and what it can and can’t do for the President.

Ø       DNI what is the biggest wildcard in the national security threat deck?   The DNI would be wise to give the same one word answer  former DCI and continuing Secretary of Defense Bob Gates gave in a recent interview:  Pakistan. 

Ø      What keeps you awake at night?  The DNI should respond:  the nation's vulnerability to cyber capabilities we know adversaries can muster against us right now. 

Ø      DNI what national security issue is the IC least capable of dealing with?   The DNI should know the answer is the increasing economic weakness of the United States.

Ø       What is the IC's most serious blind spot?  The DNI should report that it is the convergence zone of foreign and domestic intelligence given our political bias not to engage in domestic intelligence. 

Ø      DNI what kind of intelligence is most difficult to understand?  HUMINT because it takes time to develop. 

Ø      What is our best source of Intelligence DNI?  Easy, it's all source analysis! 

Ø      What is the biggest misconception about intelligence across the government?  That intelligence is a free good! 

Ø      What is the IC's biggest misconception about itself?  That its sources and methods are superior to those of journalist, academic researchers, and subject matter experts.

Ø      Is the IC properly organized for today's threat matrix DNI?   No, the IC would be more effective if was organized by function (i.e collection, exploitation, analysis, and dissemination) instead of by "INT" as it has been since 1947. 

Ø      If I asked you for a benchmark organization to measure the IC against what would you tell me?  Disney Corporation, because like the IC it is a global enterprise that is both a content generator and provider operating in a variety of mediums all with multiple audiences. 

Ø      Where is the greatest waste in the IC?  The acquisition process and unintended redundant capabilities come immediately to mind, but if I can only name one it would be the consistent failure of the IC to match analytic capabilities with its collections systems.

Ø      If the IC could get a significant budgetary plus up in FY 10 how would you spend it?  Analytic training and education.  Training so analysts could learn how to better use the IT analytic tools the IC has already invested in and education to increase the intellectual capacity of analysts

Ø      What if I have to significantly cut the IC budget in FY-10?  Military service specific intelligence is so expensive that most other nations have moved to consolidating their military intelligence into one organization, but I would rather sacrifice an expensive space borne collection system than do this (remember what I said about collecting more than we can analyze).

Ø      What one thing can I do tomorrow as President that will make the IC more effective?  Direct that if security authorities cannot show in 60 days reasonable cause for not clearing  a  military or government employee for a position requiring an SCI clearance that the individual will be granted an interim TS/SCI clearance

Ø      What should be done long term to improve the IC?  If your administration decides to retain the DNI and ODNI staff, the position of DNI should be established in law for a set length time as is the case for the Director of the Federal Reserve or Director of the FBI to de-politicalize the DNI position and the advice given to the President, other members of the executive branch, and the Congress.

Ø      OK, what do you want to tell me that I haven't asked you about?  Well Mr. President I hope you will keep in mind that unlike clairvoyance, intelligence to be useful has to be based on empirical data and information.  My job is to put the intelligence the IC generates into a context so it is useful  to you

Now you have a sense of how I would qualify any candidate to be the DNI or hold other senior IC positions, but I am more interested in what you think the right questions and answers should be to get the best DNI.

Comments

Joe, One question that should be asked is "What do you need from me?" Answer: Intelligence is an interactive process, not a passive one. We need to know that we are answering the right questions and providing the right kind of answers. Policy needs to stay involved and insist on results.

By Nels Litsinger

Absolutely Nels! I subliminally made this assumption, but it does need to clearly understood and positively addressed not assumed. thanks! joemaz

By Joemaz

Joe, Nels:
Re interactive policy. But take care not to "cook the threat." Intelligence needs to support the policy makers objectively and remain independent of, and unbiased by, the resulting policy solution.

By Craig Wilson

Thanks Craig! I believe objectivity is a function of independence, which is why the DNI needs to be appointed for an extended term like the Chairman of Federal Reserve in order to minimize the very real risk of "cooking the threat" that you correctly point out. joemaz

By joemaz

Joe,

I read with interest your preferred questions and answers from an idealized exchange between the President-elect and his DNI. As usual, you're spot on in many cases. However, you are way off on at least one item. That item is on the IC's biggest misconception about itself. You opined that the misconception was the IC's belief that its methods/sources were superior to those of academia, journalists, and SMEs. Well, having been in academia before entering the Navy, and having dealt with journalists and supposed "SMEs" there is no question that our methods and sources are better. There's really no comparison. There is no journalist, professor, or person that relies on what those two say that can come to grips with the question: "How close can the bad guys come before they shoot?" The answer to that multi-layered problem comes from an extensive review, indeed I would argue from an encyclopedic understanding of what the bad guys have, how they've used it, and how well it works. None of that is available from journalists, academics, or anyone of that ilk. I've had to listen to the discredited claims from sadly senior folks sometimes, that "90% of what the Boss needs to know he can get from the newspaper." Well, if that's true then the Boss is not worried about the real dangers.
On the otherhand, I would argue that the IC as a whole does indeed have a serious misconception about itself. I think we too often fall victim of perceiving what we want to believe. That is, if we think of ourselves as ten-foot tall analysts (and we do in many cases), then the bad guys can't be as good as us. That's a fatal bit of hubris. The truth I believe is that the bad guys are not interested in being ten-feet tall. They're interested in being "tall enough". They don't measure themselves by using our tape measure. They use their own. Our problem is in identifying when the enemies of this country have arrived at that point.
I thoroughly enjoyed your article. All the best.
Tom

By Tom "Clubber" Lang

Tom than you for this thoughtful push back. On reflection I believe you are right that I was not clear enough about the IC having superior sources and methods and "hubris" about the advantage they bring.
To expand this just a bit, I too have some experience with the media and academia. This causes me to say these domains can produce an "information report" that is far less expensive than what the IC could do comparable work for. My real angst with the IC is its failure to understand it has lost its monopoly on "exquisite" information. If you wanted aphotograph from space, a cell phone intercept, or to hack into an IT network you needed the IC. All of this is now available commerically meaning its the ability to provide tailored context and the quality of analysis ---- not sources and methods --- that should set the IC apart from journalist and academics. joemaz

By joemaz

A SPY CEO FOR OBAMA

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/10/AR200812...

I wrote my AFCEA Blog on 14 December but I am just now reading David Ignatius' 11 Dec Washington Post OpEd. Certainly one of the rationals for creating the DNI and ODNI staff was to get an IC CEO in place to lead and manage the community vice doing this in addition to running CIA and presenting the PDB. Having been a CNO Intel Briefer and the head of a JCS J2 current intel team building the daily brief for the SecDef and CJCS I know at this level their not much gas left in the tank to do other things when you are 23 hours away from the "next show" all with new material. Can it be easier doing the daily intel brief six days a week for the President?!?!? As a $50 billion enterprise (by comparison Oracle is $23B, EMC $13 B, Disney $30 something billion) business school 101 says running something like this is a full time job ------ not something you do in between preparation for the PDB. joemaz

By joemaz

Joe,

This is an excellent piece. It would be nice to believe that such a conversation would take place between the new President and the DNI.Hope springs eternal!

I have long felt that the DNI needs to be someone of "national stature" and not an intelligence "lifer." I just think this would bring fresh ideas. But, it has to be someone who will personally do a deep dive into the business and render independent judgements. I had great hopes for Amb Negroponte, but he just did not seem to have his heart in it. (At least this is my impression looking from afar.) Also, I could not agree more that the DNI should not be saddled with the daily Presidential briefing. This "face time" may feel good, but could be handled another way by using an up-and-coming star to do the briefing ... maybe even some people who are pretty junior. (I hate the trend that says only the "boss" can brief someone senior. It may feel good, but it doesn't get the real job done. I could go on!)
The President would do well to tell the DNI (and others) that he wants to know what Intelligence knows, what it doesn't know and what it thinks ... and distinguish among the three. I think the preceeding came from Colin Powell and I think it is good advice. We are there to "inform" decisionmaking and not to perform it.
Excellent piece, as usual. John

By John Casciano

John, As always thanks for you thoughful feedback and encouragement. You make a great point about "intel lifers" being the DNI and the IC essential drinking its own bath water and believing its AquaFina. The problem is finding a "national figure" willing to be DNI AND who would be accepted by the IC their leader and advocate. Some names to consider: Tom Brokaw, Colin Powell, Bob Kerry, John Meecham. If Tim Russert where alive he would be at the top of this list. Thanks again John joemaz

By joemaz