Saturday, June 05, 2010

Jim Clapper and the DOD dilemma

by Rick Francona

President Barack Obama has nominated retired USAF Lieutenant General Jim Clapper to become the next Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Clapper is currently the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, or USD(I). The position of DNI requires Senate approval - several members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have expressed reservations over the appointment of yet another retired military officer to serve as DNI. Of the three persons who have held the relatively new office, two have been retired U.S. Navy admirals.

Before I make some comments, some disclosure. I have known General Clapper for decades, served with him and worked for him in a variety of assignments (and had the occasional run-in...). We have somewhat similar backgrounds, although he served in senior intelligence officer positions in combatant commands while my service was exclusively in what we call "pure" intelligence assignments - that is, units or agencies whose sole mission is to conduct intelligence operations. His experience includes intelligence planning, collection, analysis, reporting, direction, management and command - he certainly has the credentials for the job.

That said, if General Clapper is confirmed, his ascension to the post of DNI will be an interesting drama to watch. Clapper has spent almost his entire intelligence career in Department of Defense (DOD) units and agencies - Air Force signals intelligence units, the National Security Agency, special Defense Department collection units, intelligence directors for three combatant commands, assistant chief of staff of the Air Force for intelligence, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. All that experience made him the logical choice to be the current USD(I).

Most of the intelligence capabilities of the United States reside in Department of Defense. Defense intelligence not only makes up the overwhelming majority of the intelligence community, but it consumes the majority of the $50 billion budget as well. Defense agencies include the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and the intelligence branches of the each of the military services. Of the five "pure" intelligence agencies in the community, four fall under the Secretary of Defense.

When the Office of the DNI was created by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, it set up the community for conflict between the formerly dominant Central Intelligence Agency and the bulk of the intelligence community that is part of DOD. Although the DNI is supposedly the head of the intelligence community, the position lacks real operational, budgetary and personnel authority - the DNI is supposed to "coordinate" the activities and operations of the 16 agencies that make up the community. Neither then-Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld nor current Secretary Bob Gates seemed inclined to give up control of their majority share of the intelligence community.

Even before the passage of the 2004 legislation, DOD officials knew that changes were on the horizon, based on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to streamline operations of the intelligence community. To make sure that DOD maintained what it considered its rightful control of its intelligence agencies, the position now occupied by General Clapper was created. It was the first salvo in the battle between DOD and the DNI. When the legislation was finally passed, DOD carried the day and retained virtually all of its capabilities, now consolidated under the USD(I)/Director of Defense Intelligence. CIA, whose director also filled the now-abolished position of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), became just another agency.

The DOD-DNI rivalry is not the only rivalry in the community. CIA sought also to protect its turf as the "senior" agency working directly for the DCI and the President. The creation of the DNI placed one more layer between it and the White House, putting it on a par with the DOD agencies.

Unfortunately, President Obama does not seem to understand that. He tends to treat CIA director Leon Panetta as the DNI, at the expense of current DNI Admiral Dennis Blair. It was probably to be expected - Panetta was a political choice and Democratic Party power broker. Blair, with no real intelligence credentials of his own, has been relegated to the bureaucratic sidelines.

If General Clapper is confirmed - and I hope he is - it will be interesting to see how he approaches the DOD intelligence agencies and the CIA under Leon Panetta. Is he going to allow Panetta to be the President's personal intelligence officer, or will he assert himself as the nation's senior intelligence officer in accordance with what I believe was the intent of the intelligence reform legislation?

General Clapper is a known re-organizer, so beware! Will he remain true to his current stance that there needs to be a Director of Defense Intelligence to represent DOD intelligence capabilities to the DNI, or will he try to bring all U.S. intelligence capabilities under his operational purview (that's where my money is)? Or will he widen the gap between DOD agencies and the CIA? Perhaps he will try to bring CIA under the Defense Department....

As I said, this will be fascinating.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Out of the box thinking - U.S. intelligence in Yemen

by Rick Francona

There has been a spotlight on the American intelligence and security agencies in the wake of the failed al-Qa'idah Christmas bombing of a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. A review of procedures and policies is obviously warranted in light of the abject failure of the agencies to prevent 'Umar Faruq 'Abd al-Mutallab from getting on an airliner with a bomb secreted on his body.

However, it is also right to point out some of the things the intelligence community is doing to get it right. There has been reporting over the last few months of a good program, generally overlooked by those of us that follow events in the region or the intelligence community. It has to do with Yemen and former adversaries of the United States.

Shortly after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, many Iraqi intelligence officers loyal to Saddam Husayn sought refuge in Yemen. Yemen's president, 'Ali 'Abdullah Salih, had been a long-time ally and supporter of the Iraqi president. Once the officers arrived, Salih took full advantage of the presence of these professional intelligence officers to improve his services' limited capabilities. In the Arab world, the Iraqis are good intelligence officers, probably second only to the Jordanians.

The Iraqi officers also took advantage of the situation. Having arrived in the country with some but not unlimited resources, the opportunity to practice their craft offered a chance to make a good living. Because of their professionalism compared to that of the Yemeni intelligence officers, they were able to assume prominent and influential positions in the country's intelligence and security services. Most of them have remained in Yemen rather than return to an Iraq where their experience - they did after all play key role in the repression that characterized the Ba'th regime - is neither valued nor desired.

When al-Qa'idah realized that its ability to conduct effective operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia came to an end, it moved many of its operatives and training bases to Yemen. Yemen, a backward country with poor infrastructure, a weak and highly corrupt central government and a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement, seemed a perfect place for the terrorist group. It also has a sketchy record when it comes to keeping terrorists in custody. Numerous convicted and alleged terrorists have been released or "escaped" - virtually all of the bombers of the USS Cole are at large in the country, as well as at least one member of the "Lackawanna Six" wanted in the United States.

As American intelligence began to focus on the country, it became apparent that cooperation with the local intelligence and security services was an imperative in the fight against al-Qa'idah. It only made sense to approach the Iraqis working for the Yemeni services and propose a cooperative relationship to deal with the growing al-Qa'idah problem in the country. It is useful to note that several of the Iraqi intelligence officers were familiar with the American intelligence services - they have been involved in the relationship in the 1980's between the Iraqi Intelligence Service and the Directorate of Military Intelligence on one side, and the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency on the other.

While we hurl stones at our intelligence and security agencies, we should also remember to acknowledge that they can think "out of the box" on occasion. This is a good example of a slightly unorthodox means of getting the job done.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Intelligence Failure?

Accusations of yet another intelligence failure will undoubtedly be raised as we digest the near-miss of another airborne terrorism act just last week. Experts and amateurs will delve into the many aspects of this latest security breakdown: why did 'Umar Faruq 'Abd al-Mutalib hold a multiple-entry U.S. visa, how could he be listed on a watch list yet not raise enough concern to merit a second look by airline or airport security, did the British fail to share their visa denial to him with U.S. security officials or was this ignored, why did the fact that he paid cash for expensive air fare not raise any extra scrutiny, and lastly, why was he not subject to additional scrutiny after his own father reported his serious concerns to Nigerian and U.S. officials? Any one of these "red flags" should have raised security concerns and caused additional scrutiny before being allowed to board a U.S. carrier. I am also troubled with the hasty assertions by various officials that this individual acted alone, long before the investigation is completed, similar to hasty early claims that U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan's act at Fort Hood was not terrorism.

These and many more issues will continue to be debated as the investigation progresses. So I will raise only one aspect of this incident (similar concerns apply to Major Hasan's act): eight years after the terrorism attacks of 9/11 we still don't seem to connect the dots. Are we faced with a systemic failure of the very system designed to protect our citizens from terrorism? Is Congress's 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, already obsolete or merely ignored? Has it not eliminated those crucial barriers between the intelligence and the law enforcement community? I have raised the question about acceptance of the provisions of this Act in previous blogs and can't help but raise this concern again.

Relevant congressional oversight committees must review the effects, accomplishments, and gaps in the 2004 Act now. How are intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security organizations coordinating their activities and sharing relevant actionable information? Is the Director of National Intelligence functioning as provided for in the Act? What are the systemic and political barriers to effective homeland security and prevention of terrorism? Is politicization impacting negatively on effective intelligence sharing?

Monday, December 14, 2009

CIA director balances spy agency, Washington politics

An AP article last week about CIA Director Leon Panetta's continuing efforts on behalf of his agency and appeasing Congress merely reinforces my previously offered opinion that he is miscast in the role of CIA director. Clearly his professional qualifications, the expectations the president has of him, and his efforts to date make it quite clear that he should be the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), who is the President's intelligence advisor and is charged with oversight of all US intelligence agencies and liaison to Congress.

Mark Lowenthal's comment that "One of the things that's unique about CIA is that this is the president's agency. They don't work for anybody else. If they are not effective, the person who gets hurt here is the big guy." is disappointing from an intelligence professional of his stature. He seems to ignore that the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act removed the director of CIA as the principal US intelligence commubity leader in his comments. It also points to the fact that the IC, and perhaps the administration, has not fully grasped or accepted the DNI concept instituted by Congress in 2004 (see my previous comment on this topic).

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Leon Panetta - Nominee for CIA Director

by Emily Francona

The local Monterey Peninsula community is all atwitter with the news of President-Elect Obama's nomination of local favorite Leon Panetta for the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency. Local personalities and various self-appointed spokespersons, qualified or not, have already made statements for the record about the nomination. While most are justifiably proud of having a "local boy" potentially ascend to this highly responsible national position, it also reveals a lamentable lack of understanding of our intelligence community by these very same fans.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-458) established the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) as the head of the U.S.intelligence community and as the principal advisor to the President. The Act directs that a nominee to this position "shall have extensive national security expertise" and prohibits the director of CIA from being dual-hatted as the Director of Central Intelligence, as was the case before this new law.

Let's review Panetta's qualifications: a legal background with extensive government experience, both in the legislative and executive branch, however little directly related to national security. While some of his experiences may well have brought him into passing contact with intelligence information and national security issues, such as when he was chief of staff for President Clinton, it is far short of the serious professional credentials needed to guide and direct the CIA, or any intelligence agency for that matter. While his public policy credentials are impressive, the CIA supports national security policy - these are two entirely different arenas.

Given the complexity of intelligence issues and the many real or perceived intelligence failures in the history of that agency, a thorough professional understanding of the intelligence profession is indispensable for effective leadership of the CIA. It is precisely because this agency needs reforms to produce more timely and actionable intelligence for U.S. national security decision-making, that its director must understand the capabilities and limitations of the intelligence business, and not be fooled by insiders’ ability to “wait out one more director.”

Some of the very qualifications touted by Panetta's fans are not desired or needed by a director: he does not need “the ear of the president” since that is the function of the DNI. Nor does this position require political savvy, since that is not a function of any intelligence agency director. In fact, it would be downright counterproductive, given repeated criticism of the “politicization of intelligence” in recent years. Similarly, the legal framework for the conduct of intelligence activities is provided by appropriate legislation, overseen by the DNI and checked by the legislative oversight committees.

It is surprising that President-Elect Obama apparently did not consult in advance with the leadership of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the very body who will grant or not grant Panetta’s confirmation. If anything, the very advantages Panetta supporters recite are more suited for the office of DNI: this position does require considerable political savvy and direct access to the presidential, but also a thorough understanding of national security issues. It remains to be seen if Admiral Blair is that person, if confirmed.

Mr. Panetta: with all due respect to your fine public policy credentials, decline this appointment for the good of the intelligence community and the decision makers it serves. You would make an effective governor of California!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

TVO - "Interrogating Torture"

by Rick Francona

I appeared on the TVO (Ontario's public television network) show The Agenda with Steve Paikin on April 24 in Toronto.

The subject of the program was "Interrogating Torture."

The panel included Mark Bowden (Blackhawk Down), Melissa Williams, Ramin Jahanbegloo and myself.

The video can be seen by clicking here. The post-show web chat can be seen by clicking here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Again, the terminology

Click for larger imageby Rick Francona

Once again, the media has confused the terms used to describe various players in the intelligence game. On the face of it, that is not surprising - it happens virtually every day in the mainstram media. What is surprising is the use of the wrong term on the cover of an magazine associated with the intelligence community.

The March/April issue of Military Geospatial Technology, a publication focusing on military and DHS intelligence, features a cover article about Lieutenant General Michael Maples, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The title of the article: Intelligence Agent. (You can read the online version here.)

As any professional human intelligence (HUMINT) officer will tell you, the term "intelligence agent" is not the correct term to describe LTG Maples. The general may be called an intelligence officer, although his background barely qualifies him for the title. That's not to slight his career, it's just not a professional intellgence career. In any case, he is not an intelligence agent.

An intelligence agent is an asset who is working for an intelligence officer, usually a clandestine arrangement where a person agrees to provide intelligence information in response to taskings from a HUMINT case officer. That agent can also be called a spy. Intelligence officers are neither agents nor spies.

For one of my earlier pieces on this subject, see "CIA Agent - Let's Get the Terminology Straight."