- Spencer Ackerman
- WIRED, April 17, 2012
One of the most disruptive men in the sprawling U.S. spy community, someone who turned the military’s elite killers into top spies, will likely soon be in charge of all military intelligence.
The Pentagon on Tuesday nominated Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to be the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the U.S.’ central military-intel hive. That might not go over so well with many responsible for battlefield intelligence. The first time most people outside of the shadows heard of Flynn, he was loudly complaining that military intelligence in Afghanistan sucked.
“Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy,” Flynn wrote in January 2010 for the Center for a New American Security, an influential D.C. think tank. At the time, Flynn was head of intelligence for the war command in Afghanistan. His remedy: Stop looking so much at the Taliban, since its presence and activities were lagging indicators of the war’s fates; understand instead the “pivotal Afghan districts” that would determine the war’s outcome — which, he also reported internally, did not look promising. To put it mildly, Army generals used to working behind the scenes do not usually issue such critiques at all, let alone in public.
That is, however, the kind of general Flynn seems to be. Long before he was moonlighting think-tank white papers, he helped transform the culture of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), getting its elite commandos to believe that collecting crucial clues from raids on terrorists was central to their missions. Although Flynn and his patron, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, left JSOC years before the attack on Osama bin Laden, the fact that the Navy SEALs left bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound with hundreds of thumb drives, cellphones and hard drives is part of their legacy.
All this disruption ended up professionally beneficial — a likely consequence of how highly the Defense Department esteems JSOC’s intelligence prowess. McChrystal’s successor in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, now the CIA director, kept Flynn on his team even as the rest of the McChrystal staff flamed out after a Rolling Stone expose. Flynn’s next job, which he retains, was to be a top deputy to the Director of National Intelligence, nominally the head of the 16-agency spy community.
The Defense Intelligence Agency is a powerful if obscure organization responsible for providing intelligence to military commands, the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Its secret weapon: It’s chiefly responsible for all of the Defense Department’s human informants. Yet it can seem overly bureaucratic and in eclipse compared to the military tactical-intelligence shops it helps man.
“Flynn’s nomination is interesting because he does not seem like someone who would choose to be a placeholder at an agency in decline,” says spywatcher Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. “The appointment may signal a revival of DIA, or at least some upheaval.”
It’s also yet another reminder that JSOC has had an overwhelming influence over the secretive intelligence world that fights the United States’ undeclared Shadow Wars. McChrystal, the man who revolutionized JSOC, may be gone. But his successor, Adm. William McRaven, is now the head of all U.S. special operations. His close friend Petraeus is now at the CIA. Another key ally, Michael Vickers, is the top civilian Pentagon official for intelligence.
Flynn is the latest to ascend, pending Senate approval. And he’s probably not done breaking the spy community’s furniture.
Phi Beta Iota: From the US IC point of view, nothing changes as long as the money is constant. The point of the US IC is to waste $80 billion a year on corporate vaporware, not to actually provide intelligence. Jim Clapper, the single best qualified DNI in history, failed to change the IC because he did not focus on outputs–he let inputs and collection continue to drive the train, did nothing about processing, nothing significant about HUMINT, nothing at all about analysis which is worse off than it ever was, and he failed to actually create intelligence for Whole of Government or to implement initiatives in the open source intelligence and the multinational, multiagency, multidimentional, multidomain information-sharing and sense-making arena. He has been–like Gates was at DoD–a place holder, a token leader of one of the US budget’s sucking chest wounds. Flynn does not know what he does not know — he is simply not armed with what he needs to know to make the big changes that need to be made if intelligence with integrity is to be restored not just within DoD, but across Whole of Government. With his present knowledge base, surrounded by the ever-present sychophants, he will make changes on the margin. He will NOT change the craft of intelligence, especially if he continues to let contractors drive the train and rob the government of its key personnel. He is inheriting a corrupt, pathologically-fragmented mess completely lacking in integrity.
Marcus Aurelius: General Mike Flynn to Head Defense Intelligence Agency [with many links]