22 September 2014

Opinion: Former Pentagon Official Does Not Like DNI James Clapper’s New “US Intelligence Strategy”

Jed babbin
September 20, 2014

BABBIN: Clapper’s off-target intelligence strategy

Downplaying the jihadist threat won’t keep Americans safe

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper has just released a new National Intelligence Strategy, the first in five years. It’s a highly unsatisfying read for two reasons.

First, no public document can or should tell us everything we want to know — even much of what we think we need to know — about what we should expect from the intelligence community. This “strategy” lists goals and objectives and tosses around buzzwords from “corporate speak” as though it were a “management by objectives” statement written by an MBA student. We can excuse that but for one thing.

Second, a National Intelligence Strategy written for public consumption should resolve the apparent inconsistencies between what the government tells us and what we can see for ourselves. This one doesn’t.

Mr. Clapper writes, “This guidance is designed to propel our mission and align our objectives with national strategies.” However, the document is much more a summation of what the intelligence community should already be doing than a strategy to address the wide range of challenges to our national security. It has to be read in the context of the massive gaps in our strategies that President Obama has left open.

For example, Mr. Clapper’s strategy promises “innovative” intelligence analysis and constant improvements, which we should expect as the norm for intelligence agencies. There are a lot of very smart people trying every day to gather intelligence and improve how it’s done.However, at the president’s direction, the National Security Agency’s actions have been curtailed. Mr. Clapper’s strategy fails to tell us if his “innovations” will overcome those limitations, but he gives no such assurance.

We know that intelligence-gathering and analysis has improved since Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Clapper writes that the intelligence community will support “current operations” by ” [providing] actionable, timely and agile intelligence support to achieve and maintain operational decision advantage.” The public is left to believe, wrongly, that intelligence-gathering and analysis is like what they see on television. It’s not: Nothing can be guaranteed. We know that the intelligence community lived up to the promise of “providing actionable, timely and agile” support in the 2011 raid by Navy SEALs in which Osama bin Laden was killed. It couldn’t do that, though, when plans to rescue hostage James Foley failed because he couldn’t be located. There is nothing in Mr. Clapper’s strategy to render his promise possible to fulfill.

The most important promise in his strategy is in the “Counterterrorism” section: to “[p]rovide insight to mitigate the spread of violent extremist ideology.” In the entire document, as in every other national security document issued by the Obama administration, nowhere does it mention that the “extremist” ideology is jihadism, stemming from the terrorists’ religious beliefs.

On Aug. 20, shortly after the Islamic State beheaded James Foley, Mr. Obama said, “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. [The Islamic State] has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt.” In his most recent speech, however, Mr. Obama continued his refusal to recognize the connection between that ideology and Islam. He went too far, saying that the Islamic State isn’t Islamic.

The war terrorists have waged against us since long before Sept. 11 — think back, at least to the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut in 1983 — is as much an ideological war as a kinetic war. We can’t win either without winning both. If the intelligence community were to wage ideological war against the jihadists, that would mark a major strategy revision. However, there is no reason to expect it will in the context of the president’s policies.

Among the many other doubts Mr. Clapper’s strategy creates is the question of how it can do all the things it promises in these days of massive cuts to defense and intelligence spending.

The intelligence community’s budget and spending is classified and must remain so. It isn’t likely suffering the massive cuts the defense budget is enduring. WhenMr. Clapper’s strategy promises to “find and deploy new scientific discoveries and technologies,” though, he is talking about a constant and massive spending campaign. The cost of a new spy satellite can easily be more than $1 billion and it can cost more than $200 million just to launch it. Basic research — which, like intelligence-gathering, can’t guarantee results — requires spending by the government to pay companies, universities and government laboratories that do the work. Is that being done and done right?

The biggest failure in Mr. Clapper’s public strategy has been the biggest concern of intelligence-watchers since the Carter presidency. When President Carter’s CIA director, Adm. Stansfield Turner, decided America would rely on satellites for intelligence — at the expense of real live spies — he so severely damaged our ability to gather intelligence that we are still recovering from it. There is no mention of active intelligence agents in Mr. Clapper’s public document. There’s a lot we shouldn’t know, but one sentence saying that spies remain an essential part of our intelligence community’s plans would make some of us sleep a lot better.

Jed Babbin is a former deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration and co-author of “The Sunni Vanguard” (London Center for Public Policy, 2014).

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