Monday, June 28, 2010

Reflections on Senator Byrd's Death

While much has already been said about his accomplishments, I will reflect on only one aspect of Senator Robert Byrd's long political career. Like Senators Edward Kennedy and Strom Thurmond before him, this senator epitomizes what many citizens have come to despise - the professional politician.

I have become convinced that these senators, and others like them - Senators Ted Stevens and Arlen Specter come to mind - could not possibly understand the real life issues of the average voter. They have simply been to long and too far removed from the realities of real life encountered by the voters they are charged to represent. And I include here perfectly respectable politicians who mean well and conduct themselves appropriate to their responsibilities.

I firmly believe our founding fathers intended for dedicated citizens to rise to public service in politics when needed, and then return to private life after their service. If term limits are good enough for the office of president, term limits should also apply to Congress. Never mind the favorite phrase of so many of these professional politicians - "We have term limits, since our constituents can vote us out any time."

As more and more of these "politicians for life" opt to die in office rather than return voluntarily to the realities of private life, it is up to the voters to help them make the right decision.

My voting guide this election season and for the foreseeable future is simple: No incumbents, no exceptions!

A Fourth Director of National Intelligence in Six Years?

As we await the confirmation of yet another DNI, I sincerely hope the SSCI hearings will address the most critical aspect of this position created by the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act (see my previous posts on this issue
CIA director balances spy agency, Washington politics ; Leon Panetta - Nominee for CIA Director): until the the executive and legislative branches of government recognize that the DNI is intended to be the chief intelligence official and treat him as such, no candidate in that position will succeed. The fact that General Clapper is the fourth candidate for that position in six years is not comforting and raises ongoing concerns over a critical national security position that should arguably transcend administrations, just as the DCI position often transcended individual administrations.

While the CIA has the primary responsibility for foreign intelligence collection and analysis, the entire intelligence community contributes to the full intelligence picture needed by national decision makers. And the DNI position is intended to provide that complete intelligence picture to them, and especially to the president. If these decision makers still remain unwilling in 2010 to accept the reform passed in 2004 and inflexible to the idea that the director of CIA is no longer the president's chief intelligence advisor, legislators might as well rescind the 2004 Reform Act and revert officially to the old system of a a dual-hatted Director of CIA/Director of Central Intelligence.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A disservice to immigrants

While visiting with friends in California last week, I was taken aback by this ballot cover. Yes, you guessed it, I do not approve of multi-lingual official documents, especially not with something as important as voting. Before you jump to conclusions about my possible racist, bigoted, narrow-minded, etc. motives, keep in mind that as an immigrant myself I have an informed perspective an this matter from personal experience.

Before and after I immigrated to the US, yes, legally, it never occurred to me to expect anyone to speak my native language nor did I expect official government services to offer information in anything but English. After all, English is the language of America and critical to a newcomer's success in the "land of opportunity."

No citizenship act is more important that voting, but if you are not sufficiently fluent in English to understand your ballot, how could anyone possibly vote responsibly? By coddling immigrants, new and old, with services and instructions in their native language, we deprive them of the incentive to acquire critical English language skills to competite successfully in the job market and take advantage of the opportunities so many other immigrants enjoyed before them.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Jim Clapper and the DOD dilemma

by Rick Francona

President Barack Obama has nominated retired USAF Lieutenant General Jim Clapper to become the next Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Clapper is currently the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, or USD(I). The position of DNI requires Senate approval - several members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have expressed reservations over the appointment of yet another retired military officer to serve as DNI. Of the three persons who have held the relatively new office, two have been retired U.S. Navy admirals.

Before I make some comments, some disclosure. I have known General Clapper for decades, served with him and worked for him in a variety of assignments (and had the occasional run-in...). We have somewhat similar backgrounds, although he served in senior intelligence officer positions in combatant commands while my service was exclusively in what we call "pure" intelligence assignments - that is, units or agencies whose sole mission is to conduct intelligence operations. His experience includes intelligence planning, collection, analysis, reporting, direction, management and command - he certainly has the credentials for the job.

That said, if General Clapper is confirmed, his ascension to the post of DNI will be an interesting drama to watch. Clapper has spent almost his entire intelligence career in Department of Defense (DOD) units and agencies - Air Force signals intelligence units, the National Security Agency, special Defense Department collection units, intelligence directors for three combatant commands, assistant chief of staff of the Air Force for intelligence, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. All that experience made him the logical choice to be the current USD(I).

Most of the intelligence capabilities of the United States reside in Department of Defense. Defense intelligence not only makes up the overwhelming majority of the intelligence community, but it consumes the majority of the $50 billion budget as well. Defense agencies include the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and the intelligence branches of the each of the military services. Of the five "pure" intelligence agencies in the community, four fall under the Secretary of Defense.

When the Office of the DNI was created by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, it set up the community for conflict between the formerly dominant Central Intelligence Agency and the bulk of the intelligence community that is part of DOD. Although the DNI is supposedly the head of the intelligence community, the position lacks real operational, budgetary and personnel authority - the DNI is supposed to "coordinate" the activities and operations of the 16 agencies that make up the community. Neither then-Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld nor current Secretary Bob Gates seemed inclined to give up control of their majority share of the intelligence community.

Even before the passage of the 2004 legislation, DOD officials knew that changes were on the horizon, based on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to streamline operations of the intelligence community. To make sure that DOD maintained what it considered its rightful control of its intelligence agencies, the position now occupied by General Clapper was created. It was the first salvo in the battle between DOD and the DNI. When the legislation was finally passed, DOD carried the day and retained virtually all of its capabilities, now consolidated under the USD(I)/Director of Defense Intelligence. CIA, whose director also filled the now-abolished position of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), became just another agency.

The DOD-DNI rivalry is not the only rivalry in the community. CIA sought also to protect its turf as the "senior" agency working directly for the DCI and the President. The creation of the DNI placed one more layer between it and the White House, putting it on a par with the DOD agencies.

Unfortunately, President Obama does not seem to understand that. He tends to treat CIA director Leon Panetta as the DNI, at the expense of current DNI Admiral Dennis Blair. It was probably to be expected - Panetta was a political choice and Democratic Party power broker. Blair, with no real intelligence credentials of his own, has been relegated to the bureaucratic sidelines.

If General Clapper is confirmed - and I hope he is - it will be interesting to see how he approaches the DOD intelligence agencies and the CIA under Leon Panetta. Is he going to allow Panetta to be the President's personal intelligence officer, or will he assert himself as the nation's senior intelligence officer in accordance with what I believe was the intent of the intelligence reform legislation?

General Clapper is a known re-organizer, so beware! Will he remain true to his current stance that there needs to be a Director of Defense Intelligence to represent DOD intelligence capabilities to the DNI, or will he try to bring all U.S. intelligence capabilities under his operational purview (that's where my money is)? Or will he widen the gap between DOD agencies and the CIA? Perhaps he will try to bring CIA under the Defense Department....

As I said, this will be fascinating.