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.