Since December I have been wanting to write about cyber, but realizing this topic is going to be with us for awhile I deferred to more immediate and less controversial topics such as grading DNI McConnell's performance ----- you remember the "gentlemen's B," which I still think is a high mark since I wasn't grading on a curve and his predecessor got an "incomplete" for the course! DNI Blair did his first media availability on 26 March and that is usually good MAZZ- INT fodder, but in the 22 page transcript I didn't see any thing you or I have not already read in the Early Bird!
January and the inauguration of President Obama have offered up a smorgasbord of delicious topics on which to engage. There is John Brennan reemerging as the Deputy National Security Advisor for Counterterrorism and the accompanying discussion about whether the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council should be merged. Perhaps we should deconstruct Denny Blair's confirmation testimony for clues about how he will run the Intelligence Community (IC); or we could debate the wisdom of the President's decision to nominate Leon Panetta to be CIA Director. Then there is Bob Gates' Senate Armed Services Committee testimony now as President Obama's Secretary of Defense on the department's priorities that we could explore for their impact on the IC. However, since Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell and the ODNI staff spent considerable effort in January documenting the performance of the DNI and by extension the IC during the McConnell tenure it is here that I want to dwell with my own evaluation.
Because there was so little to comment on about the Obama Administration's incoming Intelligence Team, my original intention was to write about the National Comprehensive Security Initiative (NCSI) and the reports that a federal government Cyber Czar would soon be established. Aside from John Brennan's decision in late November to withdraw from consideration for the post of CIA Director, "No Drama Obama" seemed an apt phrase to capture the transition of the IC leadership. As a news story, Intelligence was right where the Obama Transition Team wanted it - on the back burner. This situation changed abruptly though after New Years with the unexpected nomination of Leon Panetta to be CIA Director along with the expected announcement of Denny Blair to be Director of National Intelligence (DNI).
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.
Since joining the "for profit" private sector of the industrial base associated with the Intelligence Community (IC) in June of 2006 I have found it necessary to go various agency industry days on a regular basis, and to be blunt with the exception of NSA events and the ODNI's second one I am tired of being fed manure in a sugar cone and being told its chocolate ice cream! Worse, I get the feeling that those intelligence agency officials organizing these industry days actually believe that they are delivering chocolate ice cream, i.e. what the private sector wants to learn at an industry day.
Throughout the month of September there was a considerable amount of media attention focused on the President's Comprehensive National Cyber Initiative (CNCI). Given the importance of cyber to our national security, the extant threats and vulnerabilities, as well as the complex policy and questions about who should lead the government's cyber efforts, I thought this would be a good topic for AFCEA's monthly intel blog. When I saw what the national economic crisis did to the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates it occurred to me that talking about the intelligence issues associated with CNCI, as important as they are, is not what most people care about right now.
The recently concluded Democratic and Republican Party Conventions provided excellent made for TV political drama, but not surprisingly offered no insight about how either of the Presidential candidates feels about changes in the Intelligence Community (IC). We do know, however, that both Senator Obama and Senator McCain view change as good and that government contractors need to be reined in. We also know from the FY 09 Intelligence Authorization Bill that was not enacted because of partisan differences over language on interrogation techniques that at least the IC Congressional oversight committees want to reduce the number of contractors used by the IC and that they believe contractors should not be allowed to execute "inherently government functions."
In late July the DNI released "VISION 2015: A Globally Networked and Integrated Intelligence Enterprise." In his cover letter for this glossy 22 page nicely illustrated document Mike McConnell reminds us that the Intelligence Community (IC) "is still largely structured, staffed, and operated around a design optimized for a different era" and VISION 2015 is meant to lay out a path towards globally networked and integrated IC "based on the principles of integration, collaboration, and innovation."
The Defense Supplemental Appropriations Bill was passed during the last week in June and action on the compromise FISA legislation was deferred until after the Congress' 4th of July recess so the Intelligence Community (IC) will at least have funds if not complete authority to operate for the rest of FY 08 on behalf of the nation's security. Other than that I am at loss for topics of significance (at least to me) about the health and status of the IC that has pretty much been the staple of this blog. Of course, spending $45.00 two to three times a week to fill up my Honda CR-V could have me distracted, so let's talk about energy, the IC and national security.
Despite the collected wisdom of those who know about this stuff (i.e. congressional staffers) that it is unlikely there will be an intelligence authorization bill for the third year in row, I was interested in the language of the authorization bills recently reported out by both the House Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence (HPSCI) and the Senate Select Committee for Intelligence (SSCI). The reason there won't be an FY 2009 Intelligence Authorization Bill is because the executive branch through the IC finds both versions fatally flawed on interrogation techniques the CIA should be allowed to employ.