Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 17, 2009

An intelligent defense of intelligence

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Philip J. Palin on September 17, 2009

Tuesday night a new National Intelligence Strategy was given its public premiere.  Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence, gave a speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.  Attendant to the speech an eighteen-page strategy document was made available.

It’s worth reading.  In straightforward language it sets out a vision,  philosophy and approach to intelligence that Blair and his leadership team perceive will give the US a comparative advantage. 

The homeland security aspect of the the NIS is mostly reflected in four elements.  First, there is significant attention given to combating violent extremism. 

Second, the strategy continues a trend away from focusing only on specific threats and increases attention to broader threat-capabilities.  While Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia each get a shout-out, there is significant priority given to intelligence requirements related to climate change and energy competition, technological change, and pandemic disease.  It is, essentially, an all-risks strategy.

Third, the NIS gives priority to “Understand, detect, and counter adversary cyber threats to enable protection of the Nation’s infrastructure.” This emphasis has gotten quite a bit of media attention. (See: Politico, AFP, and NextGov.)

Fourth, the strategy highlights the need to, “Strengthen existing and establish new partnerships with domestic, public and private entities to improve access to sources of information and intelligence, and ensure appropriate dissemination of intelligence Community products and services.” (I added the bold highlights.)

In an interesting coincidence (?) the day before the DNI’s speech, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security announced a new intelligence initiative  focused on state and local partners:

Under this initiative, select fusion center personnel with a federal security clearance will be able to access specific terrorism-related information resident on the DoD Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet)—a secure network used to send classified data. This classified data will be accessed via DHS’ Homeland Security Data Network (HSDN). DHS will be responsible for ensuring that proper security procedures are followed.

“With this action, DoD continues its work in supporting states and localities who are leading our efforts to secure the nation from domestic terrorism attacks,” said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs Paul N. Stockton. “We look forward to exploring other opportunities where DoD can help our state and local partners effectively defeat terrorism.”

I happened to be in the Bay area and was joined by some friends who had just left Admiral Blair’s Tuesday evening speech.  It helps that he is a good speaker.  There are some real laughs in the speech, not a trivial achievement given the context. Partly because of the laughs, the DNI did not come off as Dennis-the-Menace.  He projected class, competence and  character.

More important, of course, is the content of his remarks and, especially, his strategy.  This is the second National Intelligence Strategy to be made public.  This tradition should be continued and extended. 

I have some concern with FOIA free-for-alls.  Confidentiality and discretion can be helpful in finding common ground… of which I wish we could find a bit more. But I don’t see how a major strategy can be secret in a democracy. Several core strategies of the Bush administration — including HSPD-15 on counterterrorism and HSPD-23 on cybersecurity — are classified and no public version has been released.  What does it mean for a democracy to have a secret strategy?

The operational who, when, where, and how of strategy may not be appropriate to share.  But for government by consent of the governed to have any chance of working there is a fundamental need for the whats and whys of strategy to be brought before the people and their representatives. 

The biggest threat Dennis Blair faced Tuesday night was the mistrust of his fellow citizens. There were plenty in the room concerned that their government had been spying on them, behaving outside the law, and subverting the constitution. 

Americans may not know much history, but we know enough to understand that among great powers, liberties have usually been lost to internal “guardians” long before the external enemy shows-up. 

It is a bit sad — but nonetheless appropriate — that Blair’s official Vision for the Intelligence Community concludes, “Moreover, the Intelligence Community must exemplify America’s values: operating under the rule of law, consistent with Americans’ expectations for protection of privacy and civil liberties, respectful of human rights, and in a manner that retains the trust of the American people.”

Once we might have taken this for granted. No more.

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3 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 17, 2009 @ 6:36 am

Since Phil gets to label his posts will label this comment as “NO LAUGHING MATTER.”
Personally I always believe the top dog in the INTEL world should be a civilian ob broad experience [which is why I like the Panetta choice at CIA] not someone who underwent total indoctrination into a cultural and belief system starting at age 17. This new strategy is potentially a very very deep wound to our (US) democracy (republic)! Why? First we know from various sources that due largely to classification and need to know the almost $75B spent by the US government on what it counts as INTEL both civil and military is and has been a poor investment. How do we know? Several key failures such as collapse of Soviet Union, Iraq issues generally, and of course proliferation of WMD generally. I used to believe that we had the best INTEL in the world, perhaps given smaller base Israeli. But now believe probably the Chinese in the totality of their collection and analytic capability. Oh we do collect enough information but because of cultural norms the INTEL world is heavily politicized. As to actual combat interesting that Sir John Keegan writings indicate that INTEL may not be outcome determinative in warfighting even if tactically important. There is no doubt that the new strategy picks some issues of importance. But what is the analytic capability of the sytem for information it collects or will collect on the identified new areas of concern. What it does indicate is that there is likely to be an increase in staffing, collection, and bureacracy in the above target areas but likely we will know more. There clearly is a reason that the US is the main target of both friends and foe for INTEL and penetration! The US residual strengths are still a factor in success or failure on the world stage. China is viewed as a longrun but not short run factor. Think this is a mistake. Most of the effort above will require no language training or knowledge of cultures because most of the info is domestic. But the INTEL community as a whole is blind and will contnue to be so as long as it assumes the superiority of the US system of government, politics, economics, education etc. Even though the US on published lists is often not in top 20 in the world this presumption is again going to lead to failure.
Worse the new charter reinforces the notion that “All is National Security” and therefore all subject to the domain of the “Secret Government” and not transparent or even understood by those outside its system. Its very size is a danger to democracy. Besides those inside always believe that they are the “chosen” and only they know what is needed to protect “their system” not our democracy.
This failure to see that the size and existence of a very expensive and not very useful bureacracy is a “Clear and Present Danger” means to me that this new strategy will and should be regarded as a major failure of the OBAMA administration. He has swallowed the need for a large National Security State hook, line and sinker. Let’s see how the INTEL community does on the next big one? Say revolution in Mexico or Japan’s renunication of treaty arrangements with the US! Or Whatever! It would be interesting to know how many demographers, geographers, climatoligists etc. are now employed by the INTEL community. How many rated a 5 on STATE department language qualification tests or eqivalent. And of course how much of the INTEL community is former or active duty military? How many have spent more than vacation time in various foreign nations? How many are non-citizens? How many are independently wealthy or have dual citizenship? Again with no real Congressional oversight or oversight by even internal watchdogs how is any outsider to judge the INTEL world? Of course that is exactly what that world wants! No audits or knowledge of the outside world that could possibly challenge its decisions or mistakes or waste, fraud, and abuse.
My bottom line is that both President’s Clinton and Obama will be held accountable by history for their failure to reform the National Security Community and its purposes in our democracy (republic)! Recently revealed that the President in addition to the PDB not gets a daily economic brief from the INTEL community! Where does that info come from? Goldman Sachs or internal governmental analysis! Hey, perhaps the King does have clothes or perhaps not but it is interesting how skillful the INTEL world is in blinging outside analysis from occurring. Should the INTEL community be able to own and run private corporations? So many basic basic issues that hard to understand that the INTEL community is actively trying to prevent effective oversight and in fact by use of classification and corruption preventing needed oversight. Rereading Simon Winchester’s book “Krakatoa” and now wondering if the INTEL world might need some good vulcanologists also.

Comment by christopher tingus

September 20, 2009 @ 7:53 am

Terrific post and informative reply by Mr. Cumming causing one to ask numerous questions and to be quite concerned! Looking forward to others including you Mr. President making comment. It is your perspective which we seek….

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 20, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

Done some cursory examination of the approach of the October 2005 INTEL National Strategy and new one and hoping some INTEL pro really goes through both with the proverbial fine-tooth comb. Wondering if someone in the ACADEMIC world follows INTEL history closely because both documents [strategies] seem worthy of study. As always wish I knew exactly who were the authors of both documents and their review and coordination within the Executive Branch and any contractor support. Perhaps this should be made a requirement on all such reports. Another thing–did Obama actually read it and approve it in advance of publication?

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