Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 8, 2006

John Russack’s departure: the full story

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christian Beckner on February 8, 2006

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the departure of John Russack, program manager for the Information Sharing Environment (ISE) initiative at the DNI. This UPI story today provides the definitive story (so far) on why he is leaving the job. From the piece:

There was broad agreement that Russack had been in a difficult, perhaps altogether untenable, situation more or less from the outset.

The key issue was the decision in June 2005 to place the program manager, as the post was called, in the office of the new director of national intelligence, rather than in the executive office of the president, where congress had sited it in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

As a result, Russack’s supporters believe, he lacked the authority he needed to get the job done, because many of the federal agencies he needed to work with — let alone the hundreds of state, local and tribal governments — were not among the 15 U.S. spy agencies managed by the director of national intelligence.

Russack himself told a recent off-the-record roundtable at a Washington-based think tank that he believed his office was in the wrong place and that he lacked necessary authorities, according to several people present.

Russack’s office was “scaled down from what congress intended,” said the former senior hill staffer, adding that nevertheless, “John threw himself into this job. No one could have worked harder to make it work.”

Given the limits on his authorities and resources, the staffer said, Russack’s post was inevitably “a situation of bureaucratic tension.”

The contractor was blunter. “He never stopped complaining … about not having enough resources or authorities.”

One intelligence official, a community management veteran, said that Russack had felt undermined from the beginning.

“John showed up frustrated. I don’t think he ever felt he had enough authority in the law, they way (the administration) interpreted it; or enough support from the White House.”

The former staffer agreed that the administration failed Russack. “He didn’t get the support he needed from the White House among others.”

“He was trying to impose new and higher standards of information sharing across all these agencies… He was bound to upset some rice bowls.”

It’s time for people in national security agencies to realize that bureaucratic turf battles are a luxury that we can’t afford. These internecine fights are hampering critical efforts to enhance our nation’s homeland security and intelligence capabilities. Russack’s tale here is a sad testament to what happens too often in Washington when someone tries to shake up the established order. Hopefully the Information Sharing Environment effort will get back on track soon, but I have doubts as to whether anyone can manage this process when faced with the same sort of constraints that Russack faced.

There are a lot of other interesting details in the story – be sure to read the whole thing.

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Comment by DAVID M. HENRY

July 12, 2007 @ 12:43 am

John A. Russack was my commanding officer in the U.S. Navy. This man is a no-nonsense leader who demands action and accountability from those around him. It does not suprise me he ran into difficulties in Washington. We need our agencies to communicate effectively. Hopefully, his message will be carried forward.

Best regards,


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