Building a Constituency for the Director of National Intelligence

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Richard Wright

Decision-support (intelligence) is the ultimate objective of information processes. One must carefully distinguish between data which is raw text, signal, or image; information which is collated data of generic interest; and intelligence which is information tailored to support a specific decision…

Robert David Steele Vivas  On Intelligence (AFCEA, 2000)

As noted in an earlier Journal entry (Assessment of the Position of Director of National Intelligence December 27 2010), the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) is an unclaimed orphan among the senior U.S. intelligence managers while the Office of DNI (ODNI) is an unwelcome member of the so-called Intelligence Community (IC).  The current DNI, General James Clapper (USAF ret.) is a good man in a bad job. He conspicuously does not have the ear of his most important constituent, the President of the U.S. (POTUS) or the support of the President’s most important intelligence advisor John Brennan.  So how can the DNI carve out a niche for himself and his office that will enable him to build a Washington D.C. based constituency that may even include the POTUS ?

Even a cursory examination of the principal agencies of the IC, will reveal that none of them are producing strategic intelligence. CIA maintains that its intelligence analysts (most less than five years in service) are too pressed by the need to develop current intelligence to engage in the in depth analysis and research required to produce strategic intelligence. State INR the only other intelligence center really capable of producing strategic intelligence tells much the same story.  The once widely influential National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs), primary vehicles for strategic intelligence, are no longer highly regarded guides to policy formulation.

Yet according to one of the most important thinkers on intelligence analysis, Sherman Kent, strategic intelligence provides, “the knowledge which our highly placed civilians and military men must have to guard the national welfare” (emphasis added). Put another way, strategic intelligence can be described as accurate and comprehensive information that is needed by decision makers to formulate policies or take actions to protect our national interests.

As Mel Goodman explained in a provocative 15 October 2010 article in the blog Truthout, that after CIA made a series of intelligence missteps before and during the Korean War: As a result of these failures, President Truman named the first civilian director of the CIA – Allen Dulles – and supported the creation of an elite Office of National Estimates (ONE) under Harvard Professor William Langer, a senior Office of Strategic Services (OSS) analyst during World War II. ONE consisted of two offices, an upper tier known as the Board of National Estimates (BNE), composed of senior government and academic officials, and an estimates staff composed of intelligence professionals who drafted NIE's. ONE quickly became the focal point of the CIA's intelligence analysis until it was abolished in 1973 by CIA director James Schlesinger, who shared the Nixon administration's desire to end ONE's independence and its dominance within the intelligence community.

ONE was replaced by the more politically tractable “National Intelligence Council” (NIC) whose staff was more politically sensitive than the CIA professionals they replaced.  As a result NIEs have lost the importance they once had and are now largely irrelevant. The irrelevance of the NIC was best illustrated when the NIC and its staff were moved from CIA to the ODNI and nobody at CIA objected. Yet this move offers the DNI a very interesting opportunity.

General Clapper could, I think, make a persuasive argument for ODNI becoming the strategic intelligence center for IC by virtue of being the home of the NIC and the NIE.  If ODNI could produce comprehensive, accurate information on intentions of nations, foreign nuclear programs and safeguards, foreign leadership, and global threats this should surely be of interest to “highly placed civilians and military men”, if properly presented.  DNI could earn a place at the table by proving it can provide the information needed to formulate strategic military and diplomatic plans and policies (decision support).

The DNI could disestablish the nearly dormant NIC and replace it with an updated version of ONE. The resuscitated Board of National Estimates would be composed of real subject matter experts from the government and academia that would be vetted and regular rotated based on the subjects under consideration. The permanent ONE staff that would be charged with producing estimates would be composed of carefully selected professional researchers and analysts, technical leaders, and a small editorial staff. This staff would be augmented as required by outside experts with real knowledge of specific subjects. The use of outside experts to help prepare NIEs would be facilitated by the fact that as Richard L. Russell pointed out in Sharpening Strategic Intelligence (Cambridge 2007) ,” an enormous amount of information about world affairs is available from public sources” indeed information based on secret sources probably would be supplemental to most NIE products. The fact is most useful strategic intelligence is the result of target expertise and good analysis not access to secret intelligence. Of course secret intelligence can sometimes help verify analytic findings or fill in missing pieces, but it seldom would be the core of most NIEs. Another advantage of building a strategic intelligence capability at DNI is that it would require only a relatively small full time staff and, saving for the cost of first rate information systems, would be relatively cheap to operate.

Of course a successful strategic intelligence program in ODNI would have to implement a seismic cultural shift for intelligence analysts: it would have to be based on the use of open sources and it would have to rely on outside experts to assist in house analysts. Its hierarchy should be as flat as possible to avoid bureaucratic interference and delays. The revised ONE would be a new kind of intelligence organization.

In return for being given the portfolio for strategic intelligence, DNI could divest itself of its ill-conceived and badly operated “centers”, including the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC). The NCTC has scarcely accumulated much a successful track record and is considered by CIA to be a rival to its own Counter Terrorism Center. The money saved by eliminating such largely useless centers could be used to build a really effective strategic intelligence program within ODNI. Make no mistake, if DNI is allowed to build a strategic intelligence program and it fails, there will be no second chances for the position or for its current occupant.

See Also:

Assessment of the Position of Director of National Intelligence

Journal: Jim Clapper in Untenable Position

Journal: Can’t Get No Satisfaction from US Intelligence Community…

Phi Beta Iota: Taking as a given that Jim Clapper is a man of deep integrity who means well, we must regard him as a classic example of today's failed Industrial Era leaders–the same ones attempting to do diplomatic and development reviews, commercial and trade policy reviews, even cyber-security empire building, all using the paradigms of the past.  THEY DO NOT, WILL NOT, WORK.  It truly is a daunting experience to see so many great well-intentioned people committing intellectual suicide every day, for lack of a single leader willing to say:  STOP.  Let's check our assumptions, check our mission statement, and do a cradle to grave review of return on investment across the entire intelligence cycle.  That is what ON INTELLIGENCE accomplished (with help from the last two grave-diggers at OMB, now retired) in the year 2000, and every book since then has been charting bits of the road-map to the future.  We feel in many ways like we are watching Charles Heston in Planet of the Apes, wondering just when the DNI is going to round the corner, see the Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand, and have his long over-due “aha” experience.  Between them, Jim Clapper and Keith Alexander hold the keys to the future–one can build the Open Source Center with the embedded Multinational Decision Support Centre, the other could build a clean sheet new global grid that defaults to unclassified commercially secure information-sharing and sense-making that fully embraces the eight tribes–the multinational eight tribes while making Whole of Government and persistent multinational stabilization & reconstruction campaign planning, programming, budgeting, and execution an achievable reality.  We pray for their success, moderately certain that neither will seize the day.

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