General Flynn to Head DIA: Exile or Reward?
General Michael Flynn (USA) has been nominated to become the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in spite of or because of his severe criticisms of the inability of the U.S. Intelligence System to produce useful strategic intelligence on Afghanistan. As a result among the small portion of the media that even noted his nomination, a good deal of nonsense has been written about DIA. I hope this will clear the air a bit.
The DIA was created by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1961 with the specific mission of providing a single voice for the individual military service intelligence commands. As with many of Secretary McNamara’s ideas, DIA completely ignored reality. The service chiefs simply ignored DIA and the directors of DIA (all general officers of those services) went along. In the press of the Vietnam War Secretary McNamara paid no attention to DIA after creating it. So DIA really had no defined mission and became known as the “redundant agency.”
Since its creation DIA has struggled to find a viable mission that would not interfere with the missions of the service intelligence commands or of the National Security Agency (NSA) which also was under the Department of Defense (DOD) or the independent Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) which had considerable status as the senior intelligence authority and in the theory the ear of the President. This continues to be a problem with DIA having only Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) as its exclusive domain. DIA also has numerous heavily classified programs and projects, but when these see light of day they often prove to be pointless or even lunatic. DIA does have one central mission and that is to serve as the J2 (intelligence arm) for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (ICS). Having actually worked in J2, I can testify that this does not give DIA a good deal of authority either in the Intelligence Community (IC) or even with JCS.
Structurally DIA suffers from the problem that a large portion of its senior ranks are composed of field or general grade military officers many of whom have little or no intelligence experience (DIA is a great place to check your joint service box or to hide out until a good command comes up). This means that DIA has a difficult time trying to retain experienced and competent civilians, especially analysts and linguists who have very limited career paths. It also suffers from a phenomenon common to the service intelligence commands that can be described as “rank has its privileges” which in this context translates into the fact that a captain (03) who provides a piece of intelligence based on available facts can be overruled by a higher grade based on personal preference and biases.
In spite of all this, again based on my personal experience, DIA has some really good military and civilian intelligence officers who have managed to do really excellent intelligence work in CONUS and the field (especially Afghanistan). Yet these good folks constantly are at odds with an ingrained DIA culture that rewards mediocrity and ignores incompetence.
So that is the organization that General Flynn in all probability will take command of as soon as congress can approve his nomination. So who is General Flynn?
Perhaps General Flynn is best known for being an informed and scathing critic of the inability of the IC, and especially the DIA, to produce much needed strategic intelligence to help formulate an effective strategy for Afghanistan. Less well known was General Flynn’s role in developing counter-terrorism tactics that relied on the integration of tactical intelligence directly into counter-terrorism (and to some extent counter-insurgency) combat operations of Special Operations Forces. He was one of the architects of the highly successful tactical innovation of the High Value Hit Teams (HVTT)—not to be confused with the mediocrities fielded by the Human Terrain Teams (HTT)–that have conducted highly effective counter-terrorist (and counter insurgency) operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The HVTT concept was developed in the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq then commanded by General Stanley McChrystal (USA). General Flynn was Chief of Intelligence for the JOSC. The HVTT concept is based on the idea that Special Forces teams would be more effective if they worked directly with tactical intelligence providers who were virtually integrated into each HTT. In short General Flynn appears to understand both the production of and the practical (usually tactical) applications of intelligence. A good man who, like his current boss General James Clapper (USAF ret. and current Director of National Intelligence) has been given a crummy job.
Well my guess is General Flynn will pick up on the current craze for tactical intelligence in support of military operations (SMO) that has already captured CIA, NGA, and the NSA. Look for DIA to greatly increase its already considerable SMO focus and to decease to the point of zero its programs to produce strategic intelligence. After all the seniors in the civilian executive branch and JCS pay no attention to it anyway.
Were General Flynn to mature the way that Robert McNamara and William Colby matured after leaving office, but now, while he can still make a difference, he might be the last chance in this era for the US to achieve intelligence with integrity. US policy is uninformed and dishonest; US acquisitions are a tragic farce overlain by criminal negligence – the continuing critique of the basic shoulder-held weapon that is standard issue in contrast to the wild spending on aircraft whose individual cost exceed the annual defense budgets of small countries – is a black mark that DIA could do much to erase. If General Flynn were to attend to General Bob Scales pointed observation that 4% of the force takes 80% of the casualties while receiving 1% of the total Pentagon budget, he could make a difference where it matters, in the training, equipping, and organizing of our youth.
BG Bubba Boo: General Clapper allowed himself to be captured by the entrenched DNI bureaucracy which proceeded to set him up for a series of stupid blunders which pretty well killed his credability. I hope the same thing doesn’t happen to General Flynn. President Obama appears to beleive that intelligence is only good for providng targets for drones and occassional commando like raids, i.e. tactical intelligence. John Brennan I think will see General Flynn as he perceived General Clapper as a threat to his authority.
Ralph Peters: Interesting piece, good comment. That said, it’s unfair to Flynn. I went to the advance course with him. Back then, he was shiny boots and “Hoo-ah!” But he performed honestly and remarkably well in Afghanistan. He turned out to be one of those classic officers who mature quickly in wartime. His tactical and operational efforts were, on their own terms, very successful–but could not overcome the tragic failings of our nonsensical counterinsurgency doctrine. DIA? I don’t believe for a minute that Flynn will write off strategic intelligence–but he will try to get some of the desk jockeys to understand that there mission isn’t just to issue endless, empty reports that no one reads. At the end of the day, though, it’s unlikely that he’ll have a deep, lasting impact. Without the ability to fire government civilians in substantial numbers and to promote aggressive younger analysts and techs, you cannot move that–or any–bureaucracy. Flynn is human, with inevitable human limitations, but he’s been the outstanding MI field officer of his generation.
Ralph Peters: To be fair to DIA, bureaucracy and timidity have not been the only obstacles to the production of serious strategic intelligence in recent years: The great crippler has been the atmosphere of extreme (indeed, absurd and destructive) political correctness enforce by the Bush administration and strongly reinforced by the Obama administration. Facing fanatical enemies afire with religious passion, our intelligence personnel are not permitted to discuss faith as a strategic (or tactical) factor. Faced with riots over burning Korans, the intelligence community simply looks away. We cannot address faith, dysfunctional borders, the falsity of “allies,” the inadequacy of our doctrine or the corruption of our clients. MIke Flynn really is a great intel man, but if the White House and its commissars insist that intelligence be stripped of unpleasant realities, even the best man cannot deliver the best products. I personally know a number of very capable analysts at DIA, but they cannot move serious analysis up the chain: Faced with anything that might be remotely controversial, management insists on documentation and footnotes, as though it were a history lesson. You can’t footnote the future. I wish Mike Flynn luck–right now, he’s the best we have. But this is going to be David versus a legion of Goliaths.
Airborne Ranger: I worked for General Flynn, he fought the entrenched SES Corps the entire time. If, as a minister I once had said, there isn’t anything that a few good funerals wouldn’t cure, if he can remove many of these guys there might finally be life for dedicated IC folks….but he’s not going to get “all source” anything, DIA OSINT is in the basement compared to CIA’s fluff and puff, and the hard fact is that what you called the 15 slices of HUMINT still do not talk to each other, and DIA has no idea how to do collection management, perhaps because no one gives a shit what DIA thinks it wants they are like a “non-person” to real intelligence officers in the field.
Phi Beta Iota: The idea that DoD might field a global clandestine intelligence force, ostensibly to track and whack Al Qaeda, is literally insane as well as totally divorced for reality (a good place to start for context). DoD clandestine training at this time has been described by a CIA-trained SOF Colonel as “push-ups done silently.” Never mind that CIA is no longer in the clandestine business, a few instance aside, it is in the foreign laison, drone, and legal traveler business. CIA closed 20 of 21 “business” cover operations because it is incompetent across the board. DIA trying this would be incompetency on steroids–imagine businessmen with short haircuts and corafam shoes. The other major insanity is the drones (both CIA and DoD) that are not only morally disengaged, but obviously no one in the upper ranks of DoD has a clue about bandwidth being more expensive than pilots, and pilots having better situational awareness. Within DIA he also inherits a cadre of senior executives long overdue for retirement, particularly in the “analytic” directorate. DIA as a whole — and including the HR function — is totally lacking in integrity. The centers — both service and functional — continue to outsource everything and manage nothing. Whether Flynn can clean house is questionable. There are three possibilities: a) he somehow manages to retire enough people to get lean and mean and competent; b) he creates a completely new clandestine capability that is actually competent and stable and multinational, leaving the old stuff to spin its wheels; and c) he tries his best but ends up doing two and out.