Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Joe Mazzafro

I have been struggling all of January to find something interesting (at least to me) to write about regarding the IC for this space, but IC related news seems to be dominated by the debate over FISA and the destruction of the CIA interrogation tapes. At first I was looking for Lawrence Wright's "NEW YORKER" article on DNI McConnell to bail me out, but 16,000 words later all I found there was Mike's traditional definition of torture and that Jim Clapper has made count down clocks all the rage amongst the IC senior leadership. Not to worry I was sure the State of the Union would provide at least an interesting if not dramatic backdrop for some simulating commentary. Sadly, I thought the President mailed this one in with a patchwork of "best of's" from previous January messages to the Congress.So why not just write about FISA and the destroyed CIA tapes? Both are interesting and important enough to merit some informed discussion, but both are also being viewed too much for my liking through the prism of election year "gotcha" politics and journalism. Not really a direction I am comfortable with. Besides, the state of the American economy along with the Presidential primaries has supplanted national security as the news lead in most media outlets. And what are the presidential candidates talking about? Change, of course, but also jobs, taxes, mortgages, and positions on social issues. Responding to this reality George W. Bush in the final State of the Union of his Presidency spoke about economic and social initiatives for the 35 minutes before turning to Iraq, the war on terrorism and national security. The only reference to an intelligence issue was his call for Congress to enact immediately the administration's version of the FISA "Protect America" Act. Too bad! The President could have used his final State of Union to frame both the economic, national security, and civil liberty choices facing our country, discussed how they intersect, and provided the context for a more informed political debate as this election year progresses.Intelligence professionals all understand that they can most effectively practice their trade for the good of the nation when its results - and even more importantly its sources and methods - are not front or OpEd page grist. Conversely, this fading of intelligence from public attention reflects a proportionate lack of concern in the electorate about threats to national security and intelligence's role in identifying, disrupting and deterring those who would act against the United States. Hopefully, the attention on intelligence post 9/11 that resulted in significant investments, expanded authorities, and organizational change for the IC will be sufficient as the nation becomes more concerned about shifting resources to righting the economy and protecting civil liberties.Would I like to see more resources allocated to intelligence? Certainly, but my sense is that United States investment in intelligence is about right. Suppose the National Intelligence Program (NIP) was plussed up by 10%? What should such largess be spent on? Would such an increase result in a measurable improvement in security? Given the political and economic realities that are now with us, I would argue IC efforts are better focused on how to best use the resources and authorities already provided making DNI McConnell's 500 Day Plan look even more prescient to me.The 500 Day Plan, however, does not address larger policy issues the country has been avoiding since 9/11 and that I wished the President had focused on during his curtain call State of the Union. The 9/11 attacks and anthrax incidents of 2001 raised the yet unanswered questions of what is the proper balance between national security and civil liberties in a globalized economically interconnected world. Then there is the National Security Act of 1947 and the committees of jurisdiction in the Congress.Briefly, I believe the Congress needs to debate and come to a consensus on what the contemporary balance needs to be between the government's responsibilities for protecting the security and liberties of Americans. It is fashionable to say that this is not an either or choice, but in actuality those responsible for making decisions (e.g. interrogators, collection managers, military commanders, FISA judges, etc.) almost always have to favor one over the other as they execute their duties. Those making decisions about national security that impact on civil liberties or vice versa should be informed by a sense of the Congress on how they should make these weighty judgments.Then there is the question of the suitability of the National Security Act of 1947 for today's circumstances. Whether the IC should continue its “INT” based organization is a relatively mundane question compared to the more metaphysical issue of whether maintaining the bright line between domestic and foreign intelligence continues to make sense. Embedded here is the delicate matter of the role the military and national intelligence apparatus in homeland security and the defense of the homeland.Finally, no action has been taken by the Congress to better organize its committee structure to oversee and where necessary drive IC performance as recommended by the 9/11 Commission five years ago. Sadly it's rarely even mentioned anymore except by 9/11 Commission Co-Chairs Tom Keane and Lee Hamilton.The balance between security and civil liberties, the adequacy of the National Security Act for today's world and how Congressional Committees could be restructured to more effectively oversee the IC are topics individually or collectively that would have made for a thought provoking New Yorker article on the IC or a memorable State of the Union Address. What do you think?

Share Your Thoughts:

I like the suggestion of using the SofU to frame, eventually, more relevant platforms, especially on the democratic side, which seems to be more developmental, or at least progressing beyond initial ideals, to this point.
Additionally, while I think the foot soldiers could benefit from congressional direction on liberties vs. security; I think this has subtly been ongoing for some time and while consensus would be helpful, I don't see our Congress working that way, I think it would be years away even with a concerted effort. New at this, what do you think?