Not Top Secret: The National Intelligence Strategy

On its face, the National Intelligence Strategy document released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence this morning seems like a pro-forma exercise in accounting -- accounting for the dollars that Congress appropriates to the intelligence community, accounting for all the committees, processes, buzzwords and contracts. But in the hands of Adm. Dennis Blair, it is a document about priorities and about competing values. (Only in the United States does the intelligence community release its strategy -- albeit broadly -- and invite the media to ask questions.)  Embargoed Document - 2009 NIS.pdf
There is a large classified annex to the NIS, but the public version tells us a lot about the Obama administration's national security strategy. There are six mission objectives. The first is to "combat violent extremism." Note the verbiage; the mission is not to combat "Islamic extremism" or "radical jihad." The change is critical -- it's been endorsed by everyone up to the president himself, who has been influenced heavily by the conviction of his chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, that the way we label our priorities has an enormous effect on how we fight them. Mission two: Counter WMD proliferation. Makes sense -- but note that it is a separate entry from the need to combat violent extremism. The separation makes sense from the administration's perspective, because the first objective is not simply about offensive or defensive intelligence capabilities -- it's about integrating intelligence with all the instruments of foreign policy. Mission three is the traditional mission of the IC, the one that the National Security Act of 1947 established: provide strategic intelligence and warning. Mission four is obscure to the general public but vital to intelligence professionals -- integrate counterintelligence capabilities. The classified annex probably discusses the need for more offensive counterintelligence operations -- that is, the need to trick the enemy -- and to do so using all means available and all parts of the government.

The U.S.'s counterintelligence capabilities are very weak and largely limited to trying to ferret out spies and figure out the intelligence capabilities of foreign governments. Point five: "enhance cybersecurity." A new cyber security coordinator at the White House would be And point six: "Support Current Operations (ongoing U.S. diplomatic, military, and law enforcement operations)." Current Operations is a euphemism for what the Bush Administration used to call the "Global War Against Terrorism."

The document itself focuses on integrated threats. Alongside references to the challenges posed by proliferation, by rogue nations, and by insurgencies are mentions of economic change, climate change, migrations, technological change, pandemics and global health and lone hackers.

Functionally, the intelligence community can't achieve its objectives unless it figures out how to play nicely with each other. Though there's been a noticeable shift in culture after 9/11 -- from "need to know" to "need to share" -- and numerous experiments with cross-agency collaboration and social media, the congressionally mandated structure of the community remains an acute and open wound -- as illustrated by the dispute between the CIA and Adm. Blair over chain of command, and the DNI's general lack of operational control over the agencies under the patronage of the Department of Defense.