Since our last sojourn together the Intelligence Community (IC) continues to be a "target rich" environment for controversy and contemplation.
As the last MAZINT was being posted Director of National Intelligence DNI) Clapper was being derided and chastised for assessing that the conflict in Libya could devolve into a stalemate. Given how things had transpired in Tunisia and Egypt along with the Obama Administration's policy decision to militarily support the Libyan rebels for humanitarian reasons the DNI was apparently wrong about the facts and in conflict with national policy. This stalemate assessment, however, has turned out to be real a "truth to power" moment that has largely gone unrecognized except for a CNN Op-ed by Mike Hayden.
There is no shortage of topics to engage with you on starting with the continuing events in Libya and whether Colonel Gaddafhi will go into exile, die at his post as he claims he is ready to do, or prevail. In the meantime violence engulfs the country and has driven oil prices to over $100 a barrel. Then there is the drama and trauma of the US Government being at least partially shut down because of the inability of the White House and both houses of the Congress to come together on spending cuts so an appropriations bill can be passed to fund government operations for the rest of FY 11.
My plan for this month's edition of Mazz-INT was to discuss with you new House Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence (HPSCI) Chairman Mike Roger's statements about throttling back the size and influence of the Office the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). We will actually get to this indirectly, but the vortex of events in Egypt since 25 January trivializes, in the short run at least, any other Intelligence Community (IC) topics.
New Years is always a good time for top ten stories so I thought I would go this way for the January edition of Mazz-INT. I quickly realized, however, there is little new I that could add to stories such as Wikileaks, the failed jihadist bomb attacks, intelligence issues in Afghanistan, budgetary pressures on the IC, or the swap out of Clapper for Blair as DNI that would pique this readership's interest.
Nothing to report on the zero based defense intelligence review or the Afghan Strategy review, but as indicated last month I have just finished reading President Bush's book DECISION POINTS, which ironically I enjoyed while being disappointed. In a sound bite, I found this presidential memoir insightful [about the Bush view of events] but not very revealing about his motivations. The 43rd President tells us much about "what" and "how" he made decisions, but little about why he made the decisions he made beyond a drumbeat that it was "the right thing to do.” Making me ask as I read "so how did you know what was the right thing to do?" such as lowering taxes while embarking on a Global War on Terrorism; accepting the intelligence on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (WMD); or not questioning the clarity of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear weapons program?
I just finished reading Obama's Wars while traveling to and from GEOINT 2011 (31 Oct-4Nov) in the middle of which the mid-term Congressional elections dramatically shifted power in the House of Representatives from the Democrats to the Republicans and made getting 60 votes in the Senate a near mathematical if not political long shot. Since returning from New Orleans we have also had the close call "printer cartridge" bomb plot and President Bush's book Decision Points released. All have important things to say about the state of and future intelligence, but so did Tish Long in her GEOINT Keynote Address.
With the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and I was both sobered and renewed by the way the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) remembered the eight people it lost during the attack on the Pentagon in a simple but eloquent ceremony at the National Maritime Intelligence Center (NMIC). What impressed me was the palpable sense of mission at ONI driven by personal loses that is motivating my shipmates at Naval Intelligence to both punish those who attacked us on 9/11 and to protect our nation's flank from a deadly disruptive maritime attack. Given what I know about the rest of the IC I don't believe that ONI is unique in the IC with its sense of mission for protecting our security, but rather emblematic of a community that is doing a difficult job as best it can. Having been a part Naval Intelligence that wore down and wore out the Soviet naval strategic threat to the free world, I drove away from Suitland feeling not just connected to this current generation of intelligence professionals, but confident that that the security of our nation is in good hands.
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!
Thanks to many of you for noticing that back in February after losing the Chief of Station debate followed by the FLT 253 failed Christmas Bombing event I forecasted in this blog that Denny Blair would be out as DNI before the 4th of July. However, in May I fearlessly, but incorrectly, advised this audience to expect Secretary Gates to have some pointed comments in his Baker Award acceptance speech about the amount of money the nation is spending on large intelligence projects/programs as budgets flatten and the economy continues to struggle. Instead, the SecDef demurred with remarks of gratitude that where brief, sincere and gracious but substantively vapid. Of course, Denny Blair being asked to resign the day before the Baker Dinner may have caused the Secretary to demur from controversial comments that would have added to the news cycle.
From an Intelligence perspective the first two weeks of May have been quite startling, but few seem to have noticed. On May 2nd we experienced the failed Time Square car bombing; on May 6th machines took over stock trading resulting a near 1000 point crash of the Dow Jones Average; and on May 8th Secretary Gates warned that the current level of defense spending is unsustainable. As backdrop to all of this an oil rig exploded on April 20th killing eleven and has been spewing 5000 barrels of crude a day into the Gulf of Mexico ever since threatening an environmental disaster of epic proportions. Meanwhile on Capitol Hill the Senate Select Committee for Intelligence (SSCI) and the House Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence (HPSCI) for no apparent reason have reengaged on passing an FY 2010 Intelligence Authorization Bill so either the President can veto it or it can be become law just in time to have no impact on IC activities!