Back in February, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn defined the purposes of his agency before a Senate hearing. The DIA’s mission is to “prevent strategic surprise, deliver a strategic advantage and to deploy globally” to allow the U.S. government to “understand the threats it faces, enable decisions and actions” and prepare to face future dangers, he said.
Now Flynn and his deputy, David Shedd, are on their way out, and there are some reports that they are being pushed out due to concerns about Flynn’s leadership style. The DIA
released a statement
saying that both Flynn and Shedd will retire by early fall.
The departure comes at a time of transition for the DIA and for U.S. military intelligence efforts more broadly. The DIA describes itself
as “the principal source of foreign intelligence to combat-related missions,” in contrast to the Central Intelligence Agency, which “is focused on providing intelligence to the president and his Cabinet.” But as the U.S. military withdraws the bulk of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of this year, closing out more than a decade of major operations in that country as well as Iraq, the DIA’s role is set to change.
“U.S. military intelligence today is in the middle of executing [its] own ‘pivot,’” explains David Barno, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, in an email to Trend Lines. Military intelligence must now change its focus from Afghanistan and Iraq to contend with “an ever-changing diverse set of threats across the globe.” The United States needs to “re-invent” a military intelligence system “that can be as effective predicting Russian moves in Crimea or detecting cyberthreats as it was countering the Taliban,” Barno says.
On the issue of Crimea in particular, some lawmakers have suggested that the efforts of the U.S. intelligence community were insufficient. Flynn pushed back against these suggestions in an interview with National Public Radio
in March. “There was good strategic warning provided to our decision-makers” for over a week before Russian troops moved into Crimea, he said.
At the same time, those decision-makers are asking U.S. military intelligence to do more with less. During a speech at the Institute for World Politics in December, Flynn laid out a number of “megatrends” that would make the work of his agency more difficult and complex. These included an increasingly large, urbanized and connected global population, including in parts of the world with shaky and underdeveloped institutions.
These trends are resulting in “skyrocketing requirements” for his agency, he said, which must contend with increasingly scarce resources and the effects of sequestration.
“Sequestration will affect the DIA as deeply and painfully as it will all the other military organizations,” says Barno. As certain lawmakers have been warning their colleagues, seemingly to little effect, full sequestration cuts are due to return in fiscal year 2016 after a partial two-year reprieve under a recent budget compromise.
The intelligence community also continues to grapple with the fallout from information leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. As former NSA director Michael Hayden told a recent conference hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “we are seeing concrete shortfalls in collection” because of the leaks. He said Snowden had exposed the “plumbing” of U.S. intelligence efforts. “You just haven’t lost that bunch of data, you’ve lost the capacity to gain data,” he said.
Flynn expressed similar worries in his interview with NPR. “I think if I'm concerned about anything, I'm concerned about defense capabilities that [Snowden] may have stolen from where he worked,” and whether that knowledge could “get into the hands of our adversaries—in this case, of course, Russia,” he said.
“We really don’t know” how much information Snowden leaked, Flynn added. “From what we do know, we have to assume the worst case and then begin to make some recommendations to our leadership” about mitigating some of the risks, he said.
One name that has come up as a possible replacement for Flynn is Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, the deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Army.
The prospect of Legere’s nomination was the subject of a letter from House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Duncan Hunter of California to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in which Hunter cited concerns about “mismanagement” of the Army’s cloud computing efforts. Legere is among those who bear “principal responsibility for failing to deliver urgent capabilities to the warfighter,” Hunter’s letter said.
The transition for the DIA and broader U.S. military intelligence efforts will take time, especially given the massive amount of resources and attention that were devoted conducting two major land wars over the past decade. “Virtually all of the intel agencies are going to have to do a ‘bottoms-up’ appraisal,” says Barno. Dealing with a broader spectrum of global threats, he adds, will require a different set of tools than those required for “hunting insurgents and bomb-makers.”
Photo: A DIA watch center, Dec. 2012 (DIA photo).