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.