FORT HUACHUCA – The tips of fingers are sensitive, they can tell much to a person about what is felt and, in the world of intelligence gathering, ascertaining the intentions of an enemy many times requires a slight touch, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency said last week.
“It’s pretty stunning how far the intelligence community has come. How integrated we are. How interagency dependent we are,” Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn said Wednesday.
But in a constantly changing, violent-prone world, those engaged in intelligence work not only have to be current but be ahead of interpreting potential changes, said Flynn who assumed the DIA’s top job in July.
The day before he spoke with the Herald/Review, an attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya killed the U.S. ambassador and three of his staff members.
Flynn said what happened in Libya is one of the many “challenges we are facing today.”
However, because the incident was recent, he declined to speak specifically about it.
“This particular incident is very tragic and it still is obviously being addressed by our national leadership and I will not talk about any specifics,” he said.
Today unlike past
What he and other senior American intelligence leaders, military and civilians, are facing in the now and may come up against in the future is ever changing, he said.
“The challenges we are facing in the global environment we are in, are much different than when I first came into the Army as a young officer,” Flynn said.
Those days, three decades ago the focus was on the Cold War and the Soviet Union, the general said.
It was a time when training and war games were based on large-scale combat operations, he said,
“The changes that have occurred in areas of operations we find ourselves in are immense,” the DIA director said, adding “The increased demand for intelligence is unprecedented and right now I see only an increase for even more and better intelligence in the future.”
Noting DIA is the only national intelligence function with the word defense as part of its title — many others have national as part of their title — Flynn said “It’s pretty stunning how far the intelligence community has come, how integrated we are, how interagency and interdependent we are.”
The importance of America’s intelligence system is that it provides “the nation with a strategic advantage,” he said.
Intel best focused
The intelligence community has come a long way in the past 30 years, the general exclaimed.
However, it constantly requires work to ensure it is always relevant, he quickly added.
“The advantage is when it is focused, prioritized and applied appropriately,” Flynn said.
Noting the DIA is a joint organization — so much so if all the military wore the same uniform it would be difficult to tell who is a soldier or Marine, airman or Coast Guardsman — he said the more than 20,000 strong organization’s emphasis is on supporting those who are called to combat.
And that includes the 17,000 strong DIA workforce and its supporting 4,000 contractors, the director said.
His deputy is a civilian, whose home intelligence agency is the CIA, the director said.
Like many who served in different military organizations, Flynn said he too has served in many joint functions.
In fact in the past decade, eight of those years have been in joint assignments.
Saying the majority of the DIA force are civilians, Flynn noted when it comes to the military services, each branch brings unique abilities to DIA.
“The Army brings analysis, targeting, human collection and counterintelligence,” he said.
The Air Force intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, exploitation and dissemination and the Navy a critical understanding of allied and possible naval threats, Flynn said.
Looking at the different skills, what happens is when they are all blended “it really strengthens our insight and knowledge of what we know about the threats we are facing out there today,” he said.
Other partners too
It’s not an all-American show, the general said.
The special U.S. agency involves close working relationship with other nations, he said.
“We have special relationships with a number of countries,” the DIA director said.
Some are strong partnerships with traditional allies and other nations who are part of the partnering include Vietnam, Jordan, Yemen and countries throughout Africa, he said.
“The Jordanians help us out quite a bit with training in Jordan,” Flynn said.
The military-to-military relationships are critical, he said, adding, “the reliance on partnerships is really, really a big deal,” he emphasized, noting in Afghanistan 49 nations have stepped up to help.
And the need for partners in the intelligence arena will increase, the DIA director said.
During his progression up the military senior leadership ladder, Flynn has seen intelligence both change and grow into a significant player in both the nation’s and world’s defense establishments.
Having served at senior intelligence positions involving Army and joint assignments, he said each assignment has helped him understand the successes and what needs to be done to improve the special area in which he works.
It also sparks a desire to continually improve how intelligence is obtained, analyzed and used.
Learning is critical
When he deployed to Afghanistan as the senior intelligence officer for the United States and the international coalition, Flynn said even he was surprised to realize he was not as knowledgeable about the country and its cultures. There are more than one culture in Afghanistan and each are widely different, he said.
There are Dari, Pushtan, Uzbek and even “An Iranian society in Afghanistan,” the general said, making the country in some cases difficult to understand.
“What makes them tick, how do they communicate, how do they understand,” were all questions he himself had.
The basics are known, but there are much more which need to be understood, Flynn said.
It means those who deployed to any country has to know more than the basic culture or some words in a language and that’s why he sees more training as a requirement.
More cultural training is a must, the DIA director said, noting one of the main things he learned about the Afghans is they are a quality hard working people, Flynn said,.“But they want the rest of the world to see their problems for what they are,” Flynn said.
As for recent stories of the increase of Afghan military and police killing Americans and coalition forces, the general said the reemergence of the Taliban does not bode well for the country.
However, the 300,000 Afghans who are serving in the military and police are not the problem, but efforts have to be made to identify and ensure those under Taliban controlled are removed, he said.
Special DIA programs
The Defense Intelligence Agency is in charge of the U.S. defense attaché functions in every embassy, Flynn said,
Perhaps the largest is in Iraq which is staffed from between 20 and 30 people, he said.
It’s a special career field, requiring extreme dedication because such individuals shape America’s understanding of the world, the DIA director said.
Another special DIA group is the Defense Clandestine Service which will be developing America’s understanding of what the U.S. may be facing in 2020, 2025 and 2030, Flynn said. Looking out into the future cannot be done a year from a target date, he added. “DIA needs to be postured,” the general said.
Exclaiming too often has been seen as the center of the sword instead of its edge, Flynn said.
That view has changed, he said adding, “If I learned anything in my years in intelligence business it’s intelligence is better at the edge.”
Perhaps coining a new word, “globalness,” Flynn said the days of one or few nations working together is over because everything now has a worldwide nexus.
‘”It’s an uncertain, complex world,” he said.
Flynn returned to his finger tip analogy.
“We have to have a much moiré finger tip for the environment we are operating within. We will do that through presence, we will do that with very well trained, sophisticated, well researched group of intelligence professionals,” Flynn said.
Phi Beta Iota: Below are two views, one positive, one negative.
Positive: First, let’s consider what I see as his three main points:
- One – Intelligence is increasingly a multilateral endeavor, in just about every context, whether it be multiservice, a combination of service and civilian, a combination of disciplines, or multinational. Go-it-alone strategies are passé.
- Two – To be useful, modern intelligence must become increasingly discriminating—what he calls “a slight touch,” using the metaphor of highly sensitive fingertips. Thus, his apparent focus on spending the time, money, and career development time to create intelligence officers who are aware of the cultures they study is VERY heartening.
- Three – To be most useful, intelligence must be applied at the edge of the sword, not its middle, as he said. This means it must have immediate policy or operational relevance, be immediately available when and where it’s needed, and, in fact, be applied to make a real difference, not just sit there on someone’s desk.
I’ll add what I’ll call a couple of additional points of great import and relevance, if I may—taken from General Flynn’s remarks.
First, it sounds like DIA either has or is preparing to substantially professionalize the attaché corps. This is great in some respects, but potentially a problem in others. I had many frustrations with attaché reporting in the past. The schooling was too brief and most assignments were a one-time thing. So, there was a general absence of sophistication, if not professionalism. It’s good to hear that is changing, or will be. On the other hand, few professional intelligence officers can size up a military force as quickly and accurately as a professional operator—that is, someone who leads and commands military units. So there’s a real tradeoff involved when you create a professional attaché corps from intelligence officers.
Second—and this may be the most positive thing I saw in General Flynn’s remarks—he seems to be saying that the Defense Clandestine Service will be structured-trained-managed to work in terms of long-range objectives. I cannot stress enough how vitally important that is for a successful clandestine service. I spent the first one-third of my intelligence career in that venue. At the time, it couldn’t spell “long-range.” It was unable to think in terms longer than the standard rotation of assignments. From what I understand of the CIA’s clandestine service (as an outside observer, but with substantial knowledge), it suffered from a similar bias. If Flynn and his successors stay the course and build a Defense Clandestine Service for the long haul, that will be tremendously important. Believe me, the nation needs a clandestine service that takes military needs seriously. CIA’s does not! We could have a fun discussion about this in a separate message.
In his position as Director of DIA, General Flynn NEEDS to broadcast the kind of message he does here. He has to talk about jointness, the value of contributions from every corner, and generally be positive and optimistic. Generalship, as Barbara Tuchman once wrote, needs to be “relentlessly positive.”
The two negatives are not Flynn’s fault: that the massive intelligence bureaucracy is over-funded and under-performing; and what is the biggest weakness of the US intelligence system, growing day by day—the militarization of national intelligence.
Negative: General Flynn is now where Commandant of the Marine Corps Al Gray was in 1988-1989. Unfortunately, he also appears to have drunk the kool-aid and become the poster child for misrepresenting the seriously over-cost under-performing world of secret intelligence. General Tony Zinni, USMC (Ret) remains the gold standard on honesty with respect to secret intelligence — he got, “at best,” 4% of what he needed from secret intelligence. General Flynn has the best of intentions, there is no question on this, but he is overly optemistic if he thinks DIA civilians are going to change under his short-term leadership, at the same time that DHS and SOCOM are building their own clandestine and analytic services, and the policy world continues to disregard all intelligence. Intelligence in the USA at this time is a financial pork fest, NOT a professional service capable of integrated, timely, reliable decision support for the President, much less anyone else. DIA, to its credit, is the least porky (less MASINT) but it is clear that General Flynn does not have the internal audit and inspection capabilities he needs to actually get it right. Jim Clapper impacted on DIA in part because he fired Marty Hurwitz and smacked down directorate heads that poresumed to send their deputies to a meeting with him. Absent a truly coherent long-term strategy (the new one is not) DIA will continue to be on the margins and irrelevant to military policy, military acquisition, and military operations–indeed that might be the most important change General Flynn could make: retire the current directorate heads, and restructure DIA to have three customer-centric directorates: DP, DA, and DO. We have no doubt General Flynn will end up as a Director of National Intelligence (DNI). We do not anticipate him having the impact he is capable of, on DoD, Whole of Government, or M4IS2.
Airborne Ranger: it is amazing how far backward we have come in the past few years…..I see the biggest problem being unqualified folks who have drunk the kool-aide and believe they are the ones with all the answers. A military background is not needed and when they are confronted with a ground pounder who asks questions they just roll their eyes. The intel community is fast becoming not needed as the infantry begins to train its brightest in sensitive site exploitation to conduct follow on operations, SOCOM and others start their own services since they can’t get what they need from the bigger IC…..
Bean, Hamilton. No More Secrets: Open Source Information and the Reshaping of U.S. Intelligence (Praeger, 2011)
Eddington, Patrick. Long Strange Journey: An Intelligence Memoir (Wasteland, 2011)
Flynn, Mike et al, Fixing Intel–A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan (2010)
Olcott, Anthony. Open Source Intelligence in a Networked World (Continuum, 2012)
Pillar, Paul. Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform (Columbia, 2011)
Ricks, Thomas. “Overhauling intelligence ops in the Afghan war“ Foreign Policy (5 January 2010)
Rossmiller, A. J. Still Broken: A Recruit’s Inside Account of Intelligence Failures, from Baghdad to the Pentagon (Presidio, 2008)
Scales, Bob. Firepower in Limited War (Presidio, 1997)