The world may be more dangerous today than in any period in history. Threats are widespread and diverse. It no longer is enough to watch nation-states. In this period of asymmetric warfare, with the addition of the cyberthreat, almost anyone can become a threat to national security. In this dangerous world, the value of intelligence has risen, and the tools and means of intelligence must be richer than in the past.
Since September 11, 2001, the United States has not experienced a successful large-scale attack. To a great extent, we owe thanks to the intelligence community for that. But have we thanked them? Have we asked if they need anything more to do their job better? Have we asked how we as a nation could help them protect us? Not so much. Instead, we question their every move. We air sensitive information on a regular basis, giving the enemy the means to avoid detection. We spend a lot of time looking back at past actions and accusing the community of illegal means. Does this distract it from doing its job? Of course it does, and one of these days we are going to pay for that.
Just this past weekend, both in print and in other media, I personally saw more than 20 negative pieces on the intelligence community. Much of that was directed at National Security Agency (NSA) monitoring. Ignored in all these articles is that intelligence activity has been conducted within both national policy and the law. Ignored in these articles is that this activity has been overseen by all three branches of government. Ignored in these articles is that there has not been a documented case where the intelligence community has intentionally operated outside policy and law. In fact, citizens’ personal information is abused and leveraged much more by commercial entities than it ever will be by the government.
In nearly every case where the intelligence community is challenged for methods or means, the challenge has to do with dissatisfaction with past policy or law. A free society certainly has the right to challenge its government. Anyone who wants to see policy or law changed can employ ways to accomplish that without compromising the intelligence infrastructure. Lawmakers in Congress and policy makers in the administration can change policy and law if needed. If anyone has a need to review and revise the body of policy and law that exists in a particular area, then it should be changed if appropriate.
Members of the intelligence community did not develop those policies and those laws. They simply are trying to protect all of us by executing them to the best of their ability. I find it particularly interesting that even the policy makers and lawmakers sometimes turn on the intelligence community when some of those policies and laws become unpopular.
The public wants more transparency in the way the intelligence community operates. I am sure the intelligence community will comply wherever possible. We all need to remember, however, that sources and methods used by the intelligence community to do its job are among the most sensitive national security information. Compromising this information makes it easier for an enemy to keep us from learning their intentions. If that happens, an attack can occur without notice, and our national security can be compromised.
I would suggest to lawmakers and policy makers that they review their work and make changes where necessary; but do not consume excessive amounts of the intelligence professionals’ time, because, when they do, they distract those intelligence professionals from their work. Given the myriad threats in the world, we just cannot afford to have them distracted. We very much need them to do their jobs well and help protect us every day.
Next time you see a member of the intelligence community, thank him or her for the important work done by intelligence professionals every day. Let him or her know how much all of us owe them for their work, and how thankful we are they are helping to keep us safe and free.