Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Open Thread: National security reform (UPDATED)

The comment thread on yesterday's SOF post is starting to morph into two separate lines of discussion thanks to a couple of comments about suggested re-organization of the government to optimize irregular warfare tasks. I think that's an interesting subject and one worthy of discussion, but national security reform is a HUGE topic that spans well beyond the scope of special operations. I've decided to create a new post to discuss those and other suggested structural or organizational changes, and I encourage you to comment on it with your own ideas. I'm going to reproduce the relevant comments from the other thread here to get us started.

Mike Few kicked things off:

I'll add one problem/radical solution.

Problem. USSOCOM is more akin to FORSCOM than CENTCOM.

Solution. Move SOF to the CIA and SF to the State Department.

How would that go over for reform?


And I responded like this:

I'd say "USSOCOM is more akin to" an entire MILDEP (like the Army), not just a component like FORSCOM, because of the doctrine and concepts development, the acquisition function, etc etc that goes beyond personnel management or sourcing of forces. But yeah, I agree. Of course, this is only a "problem" if you presume that USSOCOM should have primary responsibility for the operational employment of SOF (as opposed to the relevant GCC).

When you say "move" them, I assume you mean transfer OPCON and TACON to those organizations, not uproot the entire structure from the military and re-establish it in non-DOD Departments...? Because if you do that, you've suddenly lost the linkage to the basic military skills that are at the root of many SOF capabilities. You've basically just re-created the IC's paramilitary orgs (CIA SAD, etc.) and established an operational unit under SECSTATE "command." I'm not sure what's accomplished by that.


Then an anonymous commenter jumped in with an even more radical proposal:

The CIA is a failed organization that has proven resistant to reform. Therefore, the CIA should be broken up into its constituent parts, and those parts assigned to organizations that already have clear missions and defined chains of command, as follows:

1. Transfer CIA offices and personnel operating within the United States to the FBI. The CIA was never intended to be a domestic spy agency. The FBI is designed to handle domestic intelligence operations. The FBI is measured and held accountable by its ability to catch criminals, and this accountability provides the motivation for the FBI to perform.

2. Transfer all CIA embassy activities overseas to the US Department of State. The State Department is designed to handle diplomacy. Much of what the CIA now does in its embassies involves diplomacy, such as handling relationships with liaison services. State Department officers are able to make contacts with other foreign government representatives in diplomatic venues. The State Department handled these functions prior to the creation of the CIA in 1947.

3. Transfer overseas human intelligence collection efforts to the US military. Focus case officers exclusively on the gathering of human intelligence. The fundamental motivation of the American military—to win wars and to protect the lives of its soldiers—will provide the motivation to ensure that its case officers provide the necessary intelligence and do not become distracted by soft targets or by designing programs meant to look busy and spend money. The US military already has a large corps of trained case officers, graduates of the CIA’s own training course. The US military already has a better ability to place case officers overseas in non-State Department positions. The military’s command structure is clearly defined and much flatter than the Agency’s.

We should recognize the scope of the problem: The lack of human sources of intelligence has haunted American Presidents since the foundation of the CIA in 1947.

Look up Gen. Russ Howard (former SF)


To which Mike responded:

That's the most radical organizational structure change that I've seen that would require both restructuring and changing the law.

The premise was based on the close working relationship developed between SOF/CIA over the last ten years and the habitual CoC SF/State find themselves in in most FID efforts.

Other ideas include dismantling USSOCOM and elevating an SF position in the JCS.


I've got some thoughts of my own on this proposal, but I'll save them for the comments. Hope others will join in.

UPDATE: Anybody else having problems with comment functionality today? I'm having a hell of a time getting anything to post, so I'm just going to stick my first comment up here in the main text until this gets sorted.

So it turns out that what I identified as the thoughts of an anonymous commenter were actually recommendations from Ishmael Jones’s critical book about the CIA. (I read the book a couple years ago, but apparently it didn’t stick.) Intelligence reform isn’t really my thing, but let’s take a look at these ideas as they relate to broader restructuring of the national security apparatus.
1. Transfer CIA offices and personnel operating within the United States to the FBI. The CIA was never intended to be a domestic spy agency. The FBI is designed to handle domestic intelligence operations. The FBI is measured and held accountable by its ability to catch criminals, and this accountability provides the motivation for the FBI to perform.
Could not agree more strongly with this. In fact it seems clear to me that domestic investigation and counterintelligence has been (and should always have been) the responsibility of law enforcement.
2. Transfer all CIA embassy activities overseas to the US Department of State. The State Department is designed to handle diplomacy. Much of what the CIA now does in its embassies involves diplomacy, such as handling relationships with liaison services. State Department officers are able to make contacts with other foreign government representatives in diplomatic venues. The State Department handled these functions prior to the creation of the CIA in 1947.
I’m not sure I understand exactly what Jones means here. “CIA embassy activities overseas,” in my understanding, consist basically of collection management – that is, directing the activities of case officers (intelligence collectors) in the country in question and providing reachback to resources in the U.S. – plus a certain amount of liaison with the host nation government/intelligence service in those countries where this is appropriate and practicable. (It’s possible there’s something else that I’m missing here.)

I don’t have any problem with the idea of transferring these responsibilities to the State Department, but the station chief in each embassy is meant to coordinate his activities with the Chief of Mission (ambassador) already in the current system. And the intelligence competencies possessed by the CIA stations in each country would need to be reproduced in the State Department, likely at greater cost, effort, and administrative difficulty now that you’ve organizationally separated collection from collection management. (Shouldn’t the folks running case officers have experience as case officers themselves?)

3. Transfer overseas human intelligence collection efforts to the US military. Focus case officers exclusively on the gathering of human intelligence. The fundamental motivation of the American military—to win wars and to protect the lives of its soldiers—will provide the motivation to ensure that its case officers provide the necessary intelligence and do not become distracted by soft targets or by designing programs meant to look busy and spend money. The US military already has a large corps of trained case officers, graduates of the CIA’s own training course. The US military already has a better ability to place case officers overseas in non-State Department positions. The military’s command structure is clearly defined and much flatter than the Agency’s.
I think this is a terrible, terrible idea. Jones suggests that military personnel will be more motivated to do a good job because their “fundamental motivation” is “to win wars and protect the lives of its soldiers.” But isn’t the fundamental motivation of an intelligence officer to collect intelligence, detect threats, and protect Americans? It’s simply not serious to argue that the military interests are any less bureaucratic or parochial than those of intelligence officers. Furthermore, human intelligence collection is not a core competency of the armed forces and requires a dramatically different mindset than what’s demanded by most functional specializations in the military.And as for the DOD’s “ability to place case officers overseas in non-State Department positions,” I can only assume Jones means that military officers could operate under official cover as defense attaches (who are already intelligence collectors), liaisons, or security cooperation officers. But this flies in the face of the accumulated wisdom that resulted in DATTs being expressly differentiated from SCOs: if the host nation doesn’t know who is a collector and who isn’t, everyone gets treated that way. And that ends up hampering all the cooperative efforts that military personnel in foreign countries are there to execute.
Intelligence reform may be necessary, but further militarizing our overseas presence by putting operational military personnel in every country on the globe is a cure that’s worse than the disease.


23 comments:

  1. Oliver,

    The CIA reform actually came from Ishmael JONES' "the Human Factor", website here:
    http://www.ishmaeljones.com/solutions-for-intelligence-ref/

    I hope you could contact him via 'contact' link to partake in this discussion. Robert Baer has also proposed something similar. Pax.

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  2. The challenge goes so much further than the military - by and large the structures, institutional cultures, management and fundamental world views of civilian agencies (DOS, USAID, DOJ, FBI/civilian police) are not suited to contemporary security challenges. This applies both to expeditionary roles and capabilities, and to what we think of as more 'normal' roles (e.g. working out of Embassies, etc.).

    There are some great individuals in these organizations who struggle with their own institutions as much (if not more) than the threats/challenges they're trying to address.

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  3. I was going to blog that anonymous quote at Chicagoboyz, too! Well done, Gulliver! Very interesting.

    I thought the CIA reform comment sounded like Ishmael Jones (one of the other Chicagoboyz bloggers reviewed his book. Got raves.)

    What I find strange is how differently the DC policy community views "South Asia" from what I've been taught all my life as an immigrant from India.

    I dunno why the stuff about poor humint should resonate with me because of my background, but for some reason it does. It's like people only pay attention to dopey PhD's that study people from other cultures like they were zoo animals, instead of just talking to people like human beings.

    Also, Charles Faddis had a nice piece linked at the West Point Counterterrorism Center website on how "we are on our own." The limits of liason relationships and all that. Posted in the section of commentary on the OBL raid.

    How strange the Saudi-CIA-Jordanian-Pakistani Cold War left over intelligence liason "nexus" seems in this distinctly post Cold War age.

    (Also, the afpak channel on the Foreign Policy website has a little vignette about the CIA station chief in Islamabad who oversaw the OBL raid. According to that account, he was scolded for not focusing enough on "the relationship" with Pakistani ISI. The stupidest thing I've ever run across is the bizarre way Washingtonians talk about relationships with countries, as if a bilateral relationship means anything outside of a sound strategy. And now I've run on....)

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  4. Oh please do contact some of these people and blog it, Gulliver.

    We need fresh thinking on all of this. Our post World War II institutions, domestic and foreign policy-wise, are not up to the current tasks, I'm afraid.

    The Bush administrations automatic focus on Iraq and Iran containment (and OBL found in Abbottabad) is just going on intellectual autopilot as if it were 1984. And I voted for him too! So you know I'm not being partisan about this, I'm just worried. Really, really worried. We've got ourselves in a big fix.

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  5. Here is a link to the review:

    http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/12737.html


    And MikeF, I'm not ignoring Small Wars Journal, I'm just busy these days. I've got a bunch of comments I'll make over there when I've got time.

    Great set of articles recently.

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  6. Seeing as this is a thread on national security reform, this post seems to be inviting comment from me so I'll do my best to add something to this discussion. There are two issues on which I won't comment: the divide between DA and FID (or UW) in SOF, and the role of SOF in the military. For this I will refer you to a book co-authored by a mentor and former boss of mine: http://www.amazon.com/United-States-Special-Operations-Forces/dp/0231131909/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1313042961&sr=8-1.

    I'm glad to see people are thinking radically about reform. My approach begins with a piece of research from my old home of INSS (on how High-Value Targeting Teams work): http://www.ndu.edu/inss/docUploaded/Strat%20Persp%204%20Lamb-Munsing.pdf. I think this is a good description of where SOF and its interagency counterparts are today. It's mostly DA (although I see how this could work in a UW scenario like Jawbreaker), it can be somewhat integrated with GPF, and it involves the both analysis and operations in the intelligence and law enforcement worlds. I think this is a good working arrangement that has taken years to create and this should be the basis of how to proceed in the future. Basically, this is the model for interagency task forces, which I think are applicable to more than counterterrorism. Another example is JIATF-SOUTH.

    These are mostly applicable, to be simplistic, to operational level or tactical level activities. There are not enough effective interagency task forces, but I think we have a way, though a difficult way, of making it work. So my comment on moving the boxes the around and putting CIA in this or that department is that we don't need to do that when we're talking about things like high-value targeting.

    We are not doing well at the strategic level. I don't even know where to begin when it comes to strategic intelligence failures. This is where I would be concerned when it comes to what to do with CIA analysts. I don't really know the answer. I can list few recent "strategic successes" by certain policy teams: Petreaus-Crocker, Holbrooke in Bosnia, Plan Columbia(maybe?). I think the solution is, again, some kind of teaming arrangement, but not your normal unproductive interagency committee.

    I think in these circumstances the President needs to set up the NSC system so there are people in charge of certain policy initiatives who have derivative authority to negotiate with foreign countries and make decisions that flow down to some operational entity. Most of the time this happens by fluke and informally, sometimes illegally. Anyway, I don't see how putting policies on auto-pilot has worked in the past without some semblance of unity of command combined with proper resources, information support, personnel, and an efficient execution process.

    Then there's the whole question of Presidential policymaking, which is all messed up too, and where I also have suggestions, but that I will leave for another day. I think if the changes suggested above are made, at least the government can somewhat translate vague Presidential policy into positive changes on the ground.

    I would be happy to talk to others about national security reform. Hopefully writing this REALLY late at night hasn't made it unreadable.

    @rei_tang

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  7. I agree with MK, and I think this is a good place to apply design thinking to the problem. With existing institutions aside, ask ourselves 1. What do we want?, 2. What do we need?, and 3. What does right look like? Then, go back and look at what we have to see what is a good fit, which organizations have overlapping processes, and begin to make the tough decisions.

    On a parallel thread, I posted an interview with Ben Runkle yesterday on his new book manhunting. It's an excellent read.

    Next week, I'm tackling State v/s. Defense which is arguing that our foreign policy has become too militaristic over the last fifty years.

    These will hopefully add to that debate.

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  8. Madhu- hopefully we're going to have all the bugs in the system fixed soon. It's been quite depressing.

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  9. If youre a fan of "the Unit", you'd know that the military also does non-Official cover operations. This was also covered in the book "the Killer Elite" by Smith. NOT as defense attaches (who are already intelligence collectors), liaisons, FAOs or security cooperation officers. So Ishmael JONES' 3rd point is very do-able.

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  10. "Furthermore, human intelligence collection is not a core competency of the armed forces and requires a dramatically different mindset than what’s demanded by most functional specializations in the military."

    As per Gates' good-bye speech, expansion of this field within the military is priority. Expensive BS programs like the Joint Striker and Future Combat System gets trashed. Save money, increase HumInt.

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  11. military personnel will be more motivated to do a good job because their “fundamental motivation” is “to win wars and protect the lives of its soldiers.” But isn’t the fundamental motivation of an intelligence officer to collect intelligence, detect threats, and protect Americans?

    Whether civilian or military an intel officer's motivation is to collect intelligence, detect threats, and protect Americans AND to win wars and protect the lives of its soldiers--Strategic, Operational and Tactical levels.

    Also remember that the bulk of the Agency's collectors come from the military, all you have to do is read all the biographies out there. So, JONES' 3rd point cuts the mass exodus from DoD to the Agency, ie from SOCOM to SAD.

    Also remember that OSS was a military outfit. The military can easily re-assume the role, provided there should be a civilian expansion of this new HUMINT enterprise withine the military (when the OSS was formed they not only dipped into the military ranks but also the criminal world as well as police departments, ie Robert Seldon Lady from the infamous Milan kidnapping)

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  12. My impression is that HUMINT guys tend to over-value the importance of HUMINT. I think both Jones and our Anonymous commenter are guilty of that.

    When we talk about national security reform, our priorities are going to be a lot bigger than just "get better human intelligence." It's not a panacaea. The quest for perfect information is always going to be a failure, and those who believe it's possible are more likely to make significant errors in judgment based on an unrealistic perception of their own knowledge. I'm not saying we can't get better at intelligence collection, because that's certainly not true. But if you think we're going to start uncovering every terrorist plot and understanding the machinations of every possible adversary state simply by developing better human sources, I think you're wrong.

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  13. Gulliver,

    Is this "over-value" due to the fact that collection and analysis are now separate functions processed by different groups. I.E., the collector (FAO, ground commander, Liason, etc) raw report is scrutinized/analyzed by people removed from the problem. Additionally, there are many layers within the system that edit the raw report.

    See also why we keep going in and out of RC-East.

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  14. Mike -- I think we've got to draw a distinction between operational/battlefield intelligence and the broader global HUMINT collection mission.

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  15. Gulliver- please expand on the "why" we need to draw that distinction. One could also look at other areas (Tom Odom (FAO) in Rwanda, CJ Chivers(Reporter) in Libya).

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  16. Mike -- please expand on the "why" we need to draw that distinction.

    Very briefly: because collection methods and relevant authorities are dramatically different in theaters of active conflict by U.S. forces vice basically anywhere else.

    The collection of intelligence from human sources on the battlefield is not the same as case officers running foreign agents in more diplomatically/politically complicated circumstances.

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  17. @Gulliver

    I agree there needs to be a distinction between strategic intelligence and combat support. When I ask myself what the problem is with intelligence today, I focus on strategic intelligence -- what the CIA says it does better than everyone else. They shouldn't be missing things like the Arab Spring. Although, I think the problem is more than just the CIA, given that now we have a DNI, which is supposed to improve our strategic intelligence capability. I think both collection and analysis have problems, it's not only that we don't have enough HUMINT.

    If we want to address the biggest problems in the intelligence community, we need to clarify the role of the DNI, and from this new expectations should be set for what the intelligence community should be able to do. The intelligence community doesn't need to predict everything in the world, and it shouldn't be seen as a crystal ball machine, but it should help strategic leaders think beyond what they are doing day-to-day when it comes to high-stakes decisions, and the intelligence community is terrible at that and strategic leaders don't know how to incorporate that in the national security decision-making process.

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  18. Very briefly: because collection methods and relevant authorities are dramatically different in theaters of active conflict by U.S. forces vice basically anywhere else.

    Getting info as a POW, getting info during a State shindig, or a reverse car pick up in a conflict area, getting it from a prisoner are all going to be different. The sky is the limit in divising getting in and out, but at the end of the day the info is transfered and then its analyze. non-official, official, state, tourist, student, janitor, whatever cover, gives you the ability to collect. the difference isn't military vs. CIA, imagineering is your limit.

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  19. Anon @ 1303: I'm not talking about cover, but about roles and responsibilities. Diplomats, aid workers, and soldiers (with some exceptions) are not intelligence collectors. They're not tasked with doing it. It's not their job, and it's not their focus. This isn't about cover; it's about legitimate and sensible functional difference between soldiers and intelligence officers. That's the point I'm making before: you're never going to get the entire U.S. overseas presence re-tooled to prioritize intelligence collection, and it shouldn't be something we aspire to anyway.

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  20. My impression is that HUMINT guys tend to over-value the importance of HUMINT. I think both Jones and our Anonymous commenter are guilty of that.

    Take a ride-along w/ any big city police force, one with a copper with only 3 yrs in the same beat, then a copper whose worked the beat for 19 yrs; that copper will know every crook, every ho, every pimp, every straight A kid, every veteran grandpa, etc. etc. He'll have a mental accounting of all the people who'll matter, the threats and those who he can use as his force multiplier.

    So if a regular old school patrol officer can be this HUMINT sponge, what's keeping our intel collectors from tapping into these sources in country. It's not that we don't know HUMINT or that we suck, it's because we only stay 2 to 4 yrs and we tend not to really get to know the people like a beat officer would.

    In HUMINT the possibility of knowing everything is there. You don't do it thru numbers, like the mass hiring that's been going on since 2002, you'll just have a gaggle of former lawyers, accountants and financial advisors.

    NO, it's the years you spend mining for sources and info. WE stay and learn, just like that beat cop.

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  21. Diplomats, aid workers, and soldiers (with some exceptions) are not intelligence collectors (businessmen, missionaries, teachers and more), I know, the ARE sources.

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  22. 7. Interdependence is a friend; redundancy is an enemy.

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  23. The use of unobtrusive civilian contractors is another consequence from the last decade of experience with irregular conflict. I have recently discussed the increasing "civilianization" of warfare. Irregular adversaries have long taken on civilian guise in order to avoid the superior firepower usually wielded by nation-states. U.S. policymakers today find it politically untenable to use conventional military force, especially ground forces, against irregular adversaries. Increasingly more convenient are civilian substitutes such as CIA paramilitaries, contractors, and hired proxies.

    Policymakers responsible for the U.S. assistance effort in Mexico seem to be applying some lessons learned during America's decade of war. The intelligence analysis centers the U.S. contractors are now setting up in Mexico are innovations developed by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, and elsewhere. As described by General Stanley McChrystal in an essay he wrote for Foreign Policy, the centers are deliberately located down at the tactical level and gather collectors and analysts across intelligence agencies together in one room. The goal is to improve collaboration and more rapidly respond to incoming information and adversary activity. A decade of practical experience across the globe has refined this concept, which the United States is now exporting to Mexico.

    According to a recent New York Times story, the U.S. government is stepping up its assistance to Mexico's security forces in the battle against drug cartels. The article described a growing presence of private security contractors from the United States, along with a few CIA operatives, at some Mexican federal police and army bases. Many of the contractors are retired members of U.S. military special operations forces and the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to the article, the contractors are providing specialized training to a few selected units in the federal police and other security forces. Even more important, the contractors and CIA officers are establishing intelligence analysis centers alongside Mexican command posts.

    (from Foreign Policy Magazine)

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