Monday, July 26, 2010
Joe Mazzafro

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!

Since  I thought I would just be discussing  General  McCrystal’s self inflicted forced retirement after Rolling Stone reported in June that  U.S. officers in the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) commanding general’s inner circle were prone to “trash talking” about senior civilian engaged with executing America’s Afghanistan Counter-Insurgency Strategy , lets dispatch with that first.

 It is now old news that General McCrystal had to resign for tolerating if not creating a command environment that was tone deaf to its mocking of civilian colleagues if not superiors.  What seems to have been lost in the fixation about whether the President should relieve the ISAF Commander and subsequent decision to replace General McCrystal with General Patreaus is the apparent reality that the country team in Afghanistan is not working well together.  Is this because of personalities, egos, or policy differences?  Probably all of the above, but these events caused me to reflect on ISAF J2 MG Tim Flynn’s provocative unclassified study “Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan” released last January where he expressed concerns about intelligence being focused on tactical military operations at the expense of supporting the larger counter-insurgency strategy for the country.  As Patreaus moved to Kabul to replace McCrystal I was disappointed by the thinness of the debate both in the government and the media about whether the US should continue to pursue its counter-insurgency strategy or shift to a less ambitious counter-terrorism strategy for Afghanistan.  What did not surprise me though is that no one in the Congress or the media publicly asked why the intelligence being provided to ISAF is not better suited to the mission being pursued as MG Flynn asserts.

Instead, Dana Priest and William Arkin ominously warn the Washington Post readership in “Top Secret America” that spending on intelligence has doubled since 9/11 and there are 854,000 Americans holding Top Secret security Clearances.  These are examples of facts without context that make up most of this one installment story stretched into three, that missed the opportunity to explore more serious questions such as :

Ø  Is the balance right between intelligence collection and civil liberties for today’s threat environment?

Ø  How much should the nation invest in intelligence?  What portion can/should be outsourced?

Ø  How effective has the investment since 9/11 in intelligence been; what metric are or should be used to measure this?

Ø  Is the IC organized properly to meet America’s security needs?  Does an IC with 16 agencies make sense?

Had “Top Secret America” spent more time relating it’s litany of mostly well known facts about the IC to issues like these then it might be worthy of Pulitzer Prize consideration the Washington Post seems to want so much.

Unfortunately neither General Clapper nor his SSCI interlocutors seemed very interested in either  a metaphysical discussion about whether the nation has the IC it needs after years of investment or a pragmatic review of what the business case is for the IC it has.  There were lots of questions and answers about the Post’s reporting, but there was no more effort put forth by Clapper or the SSCI than by Priest and Arkin to provide context or discuss the relevance of the numbers reported.  Probably good politics for all concerned, but about as informative as a confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court Justice.

We did, however, “learn” that one man’s redundancy is another man’s competitive analysis, but as with Priest and Arkin I remain confused regarding whether the IC has too much or too little “competitive analysis” let alone why competitive analysis is important.  Regarding the authorities of the DNI, Jim Clapper told the Senators he does not “intend to be a hood ornament,” but I missed the part where he either explained or someone followed up with why he would be more effective in “directing” the IC than his three predecessors were.  Does anyone believe John Negroponte, Mike McConnell, or Denny Blair wanted to be an IC hood ornament?!  Senator Bond went so far as to rhetorically ask why this confirmation hearing was not for John Brennan, who appears to be running the IC from his position of Deputy National Security Advisor in the White House!  The unmentioned elephant in the hearing room was the devolution of the DNI into being the ceremonial IC “head of state” who delivers the morning intelligence brief to the President, cuts ribbons at new facilities and is immediately available “to be held accountable” by the White House, Congress, or media for any IC failings.  What seemed to be of most concern to the Senators was that Jim Clapper would exercise strong leadership over the IC in ways other DNI’s could not, but that he would also meekly comply with all Congressional requests for intelligence reporting no matter how sensitive or raw.  General Clapper assured them he would be both, with no one noticing the inherent contradiction.

Beyond a week of media provided theater, is there anything of merit that can be taken from our intelligence experience in Afghanistan, Top Secret America, or the Clapper’s DNI Confirmation Hearing?  Sadly I can’t say I learned much that mattered, but individually and collectively all three of these events reminded me that the IC is a large expensive unwieldy federation with globally expansive missions and information security concerns that makes intelligence sharing a daunting challenge even when IC members are truly motivated to share and collaborate with each other.  In other words:  the IC is really too big to share.  Conversely as the SNIE on Iraqi WMD, the NIE on Iran’s nuclear program, and the ISR by contact that did not identify either the Christmas Day or Time Square Bombers until they acted, all indicate that the IC is not too big to fail.

That’s what I think; what do think?

Share Your Thoughts:

It's not the size, but rather the governance mechanism currently in place that's at issue. Yes, the IC, made up of 16 independent agencies, is large, bureaucratic and balkanized. The governance mechanism in place facitates that remaining the case. However, if the President were serious he could move the IC to an "enterprise" model and change the managment model to better support that shift. Giving the DNI budget authority and modifying how Congress oversees the IC are manditory first steps.

You speak the truth Kieth! joemaz

1. The national Intelligence Community is too big as currently configured.
2. National level agencies should be four:
a. CIA
b. NSA
c. NGA
d. NRO
All others are departmental in echelon. TBD are the national centers, which could be under a DNI, should the DNI ever become a truely useful organization. This radically simplifies the budget, upper-level span of control control, and last but not least the NIE process. Let us seriously examine the British process and adopt an NIE process that includes the lead four,and by invitation only, those departmental elements deemed relevent.

Lloyd thanks! Management gurus always talk about "span of control" and nobody would ever say 16 is manageable number. GE I believe has 10 business units and is often discussed in terms of whether it is to diverse to be well managed. GE survives --- and use to thrive ---- because it invests so much into teaching its executive about management in general and the GE style of management in particular. The military emulates this some what with its war colleges, but IC seniors are groomed in management where and when?

I agree with you that neither the SSCI hearing, nor the Top Secret America story really get at the underlying questions about the missions, capabilities, size, and structure of our Intelligence Community. Like Keith, I believe we definitely need to realize the enterprise approach - which is what I believe the DNI was originally envisioned to lead; if not, this is what the approach should have been.
The Intelligence Community and the Intelligence Industry are critical to our defense. Improving efficiencies is urgent in this fiscal landscape, but improving capabilities of this community should remain top priority. Much efficiency can be gained from an enterprise approach with mandated and facilitated information sharing across that enterprise. If necessary, we must bend the bureaucracy to make this possible. Gen Clapper was not nominated to be the figurehead for 16 entities. He must reengineer this community into a collaborative enterprise. His predecessors have been unwilling or unable to achieve this vision. Why is that? That is the question that should be explored.

Appreciate the responses, and agree with the points made. I find it intersting that we talk about community leadership and then "middle management". Why isn't it, "middle leadership"? Answer: 1. We promote good analysts into management so they can improve their income. 2. Most analysts don't want to be "managers", and in fact are very poor managers since they are primarily, "thinkers". 3. We don't have a uniform definition for Intelligence, which leaves us adrift in a self-generated sea of confusion as to what and why we are. 4. All this leaves us in the position of teaching ourselves processes, which is woefully inadequate. The the ice cream continues to be licked by itself.

DPerot appreciate the comment. Beyond all the normal DC Turf issue I believe little action has been taken on strengthing the DNI/ODNI control over the IC because the United States' historical concerns about a power intelligence communitiy intruding into American's civil liberities. Since 9/11 a few have called for a national discussion about establishing a new balance between security and civil liberities, but so far the nation has chosen not to engage in that debate. That usually happens if the subject is not important (don't believe that is the case here) OR when both sides are afraid of the answers that may emerge from such a debate joemaz

.... I wasn't done,

Virtually all of these attacks are anonymous. And most of them leave no signature at all. How do you defend against them? Attempting to is akin to defending the ocean. Wrong target.

The most important defense is to protect the _data_ and quit trying to use infrastructure protection solutions as an off-target proxy for that.