Here we go again….
Foreign Affairs, May 18, 2012
Last month, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the creation of a new U.S. espionage agency: the Defense Clandestine Service, or DCS. DCS is expected to expand the Pentagon’s espionage personnel by several hundred over the next few years, while reportedly leaving budgets largely unchanged. The news nonetheless surprised some observers in Washington because the move appeared, at least initially, to be a direct challenge to the Central Intelligence Agency, whose National Clandestine Service leads the country’s spy work overseas. Then came a second surprise: former CIA officers and other intelligence experts started applauding. The question is why.
Four reasons stand out. First, DCS can be regarded as a rebranding and upgrading of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s espionage unit, the Defense HUMINT Service (HUMINT stands for “human intelligence”), which was created in 1992 to improve the coordination and accountability of military espionage. The CIA has long supported the efforts to improve the military’s HUMINT tradecraft, but despaired because the military’s case officers never stayed long in their jobs. The new DCS will have ranking general officers and field grade officers who stay put for the long term.
Second, the CIA likes the idea behind DCS because it has been gaining advantages from improved military espionage over the past few years — the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden is just one example of the kind of success that close collaboration can achieve. The CIA would like to have that capability against national targets outside the current war zones. The CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the military services, diplomats, and law enforcement officers all need discriminating and persistent engagement with an increasingly dispersed and mercurial adversary. Thanks to the growth of broadband communications and social networking, terrorists, drug syndicates, and arms traffickers operate as overlapping networks. This is a new kind of engagement that requires innovative operations within the legal bounds of civil societies. To respond to such threats, the CIA and the Pentagon see advantages in working as a networked team too. So, the better human intelligence that comes from the military, the better the National Clandestine Service.
For the CIA, the less agreeable issue with the creation of DCS is the notion that the military might be producing the best case officers against some targets. The CIA holds that good case officers can recruit anyone. But recruiting agents is only one part of espionage; other parts involve assessing knowledge, judging risk and reliability, and then knowing what to ask for next. Against military targets, the military may be most successful. Think of it this way: if you want to collect intelligence on the nuclear weapons capabilities of a foreign state, would you prefer to have scientists or non-scientists recruiting foreign physicists and weapons designers?
Third is the matter of integration. Good national and strategic intelligence is critical for operations against transnational targets, but while the military’s tactical awareness is improving rapidly, strategic context has often been lacking. Case in point: in January 2010, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, now head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, wrote “Fixing Intelligence in Afghanistan,” a stinging report on intelligence deficiencies on the battlefield. The CIA has had a hard time improving the situation without being granted direct access to the problems that the military wants solved. DCS can help bridge the divide.
Fourth, chasing today’s amorphous, mobile targets, such as insurgents or terrorists, is logistically difficult. Since the Pentagon has an unparalleled global reach and specializes in logistics, and the CIA has deep ties with target countries, it makes sense to gain economies of scale through combined and complementary operations. That will require overcoming the trust gap that has sometimes weakened military-civilian intelligence cooperation. Rather than representing an escalation of turf tensions, DCS is a boost to the cooperation that has been developing for some years through institutionalized joint training and collaboration in the field. Former CIA officials I have spoken with expressed optimism about the Pentagon’s new initiative, using the raid that killed Osama bin Laden to illustrate the point.
The creation of DCS, however, also poses several risks. Chief among them is the prospect that the CIA will lose control over choosing targets and creating priorities for collection as the requirements for defense HUMINT gain further attention and federal budget cutting forces intelligence dollars to decline overall. The State Department, with no clandestine capability of its own, relies on the CIA to remember its needs too. As the CIA works ever closer with DCS, State’s priorities may get less attention than they should.
More, if the creation of DCS simply increases the Defense Department’s presence inside U.S. embassies, it may complicate the role of CIA station chiefs and U.S. ambassadors, who are legally responsible for operations in the countries in which they are stationed. A stronger Pentagon role might throw off the delicate balance required for effective in-country intelligence operations. The priorities of regional combatant commanders, ambassadors, and civilian intelligence agencies do not always align. If collection priorities or covert actions become skewed toward what the Pentagon wants, civilian policymaking might be compromised, and the risks of poorly coordinated field operations will increase.
To ensure that improved military espionage does not degrade intelligence support for diplomacy and other national security operations, CIA chiefs of station need to retain their status as national managers of human intelligence. Working with ambassadors and combatant commands, the CIA can keep the system infused with the balance of purpose that the National Security Council and the president expect.
ROBERT STEELE: Jennifer always means well, but this presentation is at best a superficial apologia for both CIA and DoD being completely useless in the clandestine arena, and at worst a serious misrepresentation of the facts and the true cost of idiocy on steroids.
FACT #1: 80-90% of CIA’s “clandestine human intelligence” comes from foreign liaison hand-outs and legal traveler debriefings. CIA has proven unable to manage either non-offical cover clandestine operations, or persistent pervasive close-in technical and provincial human collection.
FACT #2: DoD to date is so screwed up in the clandestine (and counter-intelligence) arena as to defy even the most informed imagination. On the one hand the civilians running this for DoD are completely out of their depth; on the other hand, the so-called special operations clandestine training is, as a classmate and SOF Colonel colleague put it, nothing more than “push-ups done silently–yet another vacuous scheme, an inwardly-focused self-licking ice cream cone…
FACT #3: Not only does CIA not have a bench of creative self-starters with a experience in clandestine operations — it has an overstock of bureaucrats who have lived immunity working out of official installations and doing virtually nothing not tolerated by local foreign counterintelligence — but DoD has zero grasp of the one way it could healthy fast, and therefore DoD will continue to field US citizens that die in car crashes or join CIA in being the laughing-stock of the foreign intelligence world. Like SOF (which has lowered its standards and become an empty shell in its own right), clandestine HUMINT takes decades to get right–meanwhile, the USG is deaf, blind, and unable to grasp reality because it refuses to do the three things that might restore intelligence with integrity: create the Open Source Agency; invest in Whole of Government processing and analytics; and get serious about multinational intelligence on all topics.
My conclusion: unless and until the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) gets a grip on management, something it has never done well and abandoned completely in the 1970’s, nothing the US Intelligence Community does — including military goat fests pretending to be clandestine operations — is going to make a difference in the security and prosperity of the United States of America. Mike Flynn will be handed his ass by DIA civilians…he will sink into the bog. Admiral McRaven has already had one stake in his heart, and while he means well, he simply does not know what he does not know and no one advising him knows either–as Daniel Elsberg lectured Henry Kissinger, they are as morons, witless of reality and sadly oblivious to the idiocy of what they are about. Until and unless an Open Source Agency (OSA) is established under diplomatic auspices, and OMB gets a grip on true costs and returns on investment across all the Cabinet departments and agencies, the “secret team” will continue to be a sucking chest wound that creates more problems than it is worth. Until and unless the USG learns how to do truly multinational intelligence, leveraging open sources as the foundation for precision classified endeavors, both CIA and DIA “human intelligence” will continue to be self-licking ice cream cones that are a drain on the national treasury and a cancer within the national (dead) brain.