Tuesday, October 05, 2010
Joe Mazzafro

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. 

Picking up on what I encountered at ONI, I agree with Freed Zakaria’s early September NEWSWEEK article that as result of America’s massive response to 9/11, including a 250% increase in intelligence spending, that we have successfully minimized Al Qaeda’s capabilities to organize and deliver a spectacular attack though we have not muted Al Qaeda’s pernicious intentions to kill Americans or to destroy our nation.  Because of this, reasonable people can now disagree about whether it is necessary it to continue to assert military force in Afghanistan and whether $75 billion is too little or too much for a democracy to spend on intelligence.  This is a good place to be, but it comes with costs as new issues and threats have morphed from 9/11, including:

Ø  Defining the balance between security and civil liberty

Ø  The security of our cyber infra-structure

Ø  Pakistan as a failed Moslem state with nuclear weapons

Ø  The continuing debt crisis

Since 9/11 the nation has engaged in a yet unresolved debate between civil liberties and security with the elected leadership reflecting the views of their constituents of wanting both in equal measure. But as documented by a 9/11 Commission report released in September, Al Qaeda is now turning to people with some type of US person status to evade detection and surveillance by the US Intelligence Community.  In its original 2004 report, the 9/11 Commission warned that “the wall” between intelligence agencies and law enforcement contributed to Al Qaeda’s attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon being successful.  In theory, the wall has been torn down; however, the lack of crosstalk between the IC (emails to a radical Inman in Yemen) and Army criminal investigators in the case of the Fort Hood shooter makes Governor Kean’s point that the US is ill prepared to identify and stop “home grown terrorism.”  Before proceeding into constitutionally uncharted areas of surveillance on US persons, it is, of course, reasonable for the IC to expect the Congress to express the will of the American people on the balance they want between security and civil liberties.  Unfortunately, this important question has become a partisan political issue resulting in debate and posturing, but no effective public policy to enhance the security of the American people.

This leads naturally to a consideration of what is the role of the IC in cyberspace where there is a documented threat to both the individual well being of US citizens as well as to the nation’s infrastructure.  Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn in his seminal article Defending a New Domain: The Pentagon’s Cyberstrategy (, which appears in the September/October edition of Foreign Affairs, reminds us that it is difficult to ascertain the nationality let alone the identity of bad actors in cyberspace.  He goes on to observe that because of the nature of Information Technology (IT) the barriers to entry for cyberspace are relatively low and offensive capabilities will almost always be ahead of defensive ones.  Given these conditions it should be apparent that in order to conduct effective intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) in cyberspace the IC is going to need policy relief from collecting on US persons.  To be clear, Cyberspace epitomizes the unaddressed policy and legal issues associated with the convergence of domestic and foreign threats to the security of the United States that manifested itself on 9/11. 


Deputy Secretary Lynn goes on to express his concerns about how ineffective traditional means of diplomatic, economic, or military deterrence are in cyberspace, but how effective would they be against Pakistan as a failed state that lost control of its nuclear weapons with its indigenous population of Al Qaeda radicals?  The monsoonal floods in Pakistan that are straining the central government’s ability to respond to its citizen’s basic needs make this more than an academic question.  In late September Osama bin Laden posted video chastising Muslim countries for not coming more quickly and generously to the aid of the Pakistani people.  David Ignatius reports from Pakistan that flood victims there are more aware of US drone attacks in their country than they are that US helicopters are delivering food in the disaster area.  Should Pakistan become a failed state unable to provide basic government services for its citizens, what is disconcerting is that keeping track of nuclear weapons in a failed state is not something the IC is well versed in (recall Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union).  Moreover, if we understood Al Qaeda’s patterns of operation in Pakistan we would have captured or killed bin Laden by now.   Given that we understand that Al Qaeda and its affiliates use the internet as its C4ISR backbone, and that 80 percent of internet traffic travels through servers based in the US, the IC again encounters the convergence of domestic and foreign intelligence issue in protecting America from “loose nukes.” 


Throughout the response to 9/11, the US has been following an ill conceived economic policy of “guns and butter” by borrowing the money to fight lengthy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while bulking up the IC and increasing entitlements.  The sheer size of the national debt as it approaches a 100% of annual Gross National Product (GNP) means that the neither the President, the Congress, nor the Federal Reserve has any effective options for responding to economic or national security perturbations.  In fact, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen is on record saying that the size of the national debt is in fact a matter of national security.  Understanding that continued top line growth experienced since FY 2004 is ending, Secretary Gates has told the Department of Defense to find $100 billion dollars (conservatively 15% of its annual budget) in savings over the next five years that can be reinvested for meeting military needs.  Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Jim Clapper has quietly issued a similar directive to the IC and supports Gates’ zero based review of Military Intelligence due on 01 November.


The good news is that since 9/11, despite great expense, the US has severely weakened Al Qaeda and driven its infrastructure into the Federally Administered (no pretense of government!) Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan along the Afghan border.  The bad news is that ensconced in the FATA, Al Qaeda can both devise and execute cyber attacks against friendly governments if not the US all while working to turn Pakistan into a failed nuclear state.  Ironically it was a long expensive war in Afghanistan coupled with spending to keep pace with US strategic forces that literally broke the bank in Moscow. To deal with this emerging threats discussed here, the United States  will need to borrow money it doesn’t have, choose to make economic sacrifices, or use the intelligence, military, diplomatic, and economic  capabilities it has more efficiently and adroitly.


That’s what I; what do think?

Share Your Thoughts:


Great observations and very timely, as always. At least a few of us out here in Hawaii have missed your blog -- WELCOME BACK!

A few thoughts to add:

1. This report (Center for Security Policy's Team B Sharia Threat Study) certainly highlights the current reality and future continuing potential of "enemies inside the gates" to do us harm, disrupt or destroy our way of life. I certainly come away from reading this study with a renewed sense of the scope, scale, long-term strategic intent and fervent commitment these fanatics bring to the fight. The enemies we must counter, whether they choose kinetic or non-kinetic weapons and tactics, know they cannot defeat us on any kind of traditional battlefield. So we will most certainly see a continuation of their exploration of capabilities, capacity, tactics, weapons and tools to attack us and our allies.

2. As you well describe, interleaving these unpredictable potentialities with the possibility that nuclear or other WMDs could fall into the hands of collaborating non-state actors/groups with the intent and positioning to deliver them is a clear and present danger. The vast dispersion and unpredictable methods of these groups and individuals impose entirely new kinds of requirements on U.S. intelligence capabilities and capacity. Said another way, we've not been down this road before - much of it is all new, and the stakes are very high.

3. So, notwithstanding the domestic economic implications, on its face, roughly $75B/year (as disclosed by Denny Blair about a year ago) for U.S. intelligence does not strike me as a high number at all. It is probably too low. Consider that as a percentage of the FY'11 defense budget, this $75B figure represents about 10% of national defense. Consider that our FY'11 interest-on-debt will be $251B, entitlements like Social Security and other forms of "income security" will total well over a $1T, Medicare $498B, Medicade and other health-related programs $381B, etc. So, when put in perspective, an intelligence community that has the singular focus of predicting and preventing all manner of disruptive and destructive threats to the U.S. way of life is an intelligence community that needs to be adequately resourced!

4. I agree that the SECDEF/ODNI-directed efforts to find mission and business efficiencies are well-warranted and will hopefully net meaningful results without taking us to a "hollow force" condition, as has happened before when the normal political cycle drove a great emphasis on domestic investment and entitlements. I particularly like the SECDEF Gates put out an aggressive web-based call for ideas to the entire community. I contributed a few, and have numerous friends and associates who did likewise. If they seriously consider and assess many of these ideas, we'll see some tangible efforts in the coming few years.

5. Your last paragraph is spot on. The savvy observer can attribute much of our success since 9/11 in warding off another major attack to the intelligence community. Now is not the time to lose our focus and will with regard to IC investments.




The subject of 'defending cyberspace' is far too hyperventilated and off target. And that includes Secy Lynn's Foreign Affairs article.

Cyberspace is a bit undefined, but if we take that to mean, the Internet, then we can proceed. The Internet is a neutral media. The ocean is neutral media. So is airspace. Nobody owns any of that and we don't try to defend the ocean.
What we can do is protect our traffic across the ocean -- defend the cargoes and convoys.

Most breathless articles and briefings that I've seen on the subject point to this or that 'attack' ranging from virus propagations (1) over the internet, 2) over a single network segment and 3) over out-of-band means like infected USB sticks, to denial and theft of service attacks (again, 1) over the internet or 2) over a single network segment to TA/TFA attacks to attacks counter to TRANSEC, LPI or jamming.

Thanks Rex. I believe people are becoming increasingly aware IT resilence/redundancy makes more sense than defense indepth when it comes to cyber defense. You make an excellent poing about focusing on protecting the data vice infra-structure, but isn't infra-structure how data moves? joemaz

Dave, thanks for your insights and feed back. I am confident that with focused leadership and good management the IC has sufficient resources to keep the country informed about the strategic threats it faces and even warn of specific events. I hope I am wrong but to me the IC today looks like a bigger version of what it was and capable of on 9/10/2001. I enjoy writing this blog, but sometimes my day job wont let me! joemaz