Analysis: Axing of US DNI points to structural issues

Dennis Blair

Dennis Blair

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Although few American intelligence observers were astonished by last week’s involuntary resignation of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the silence by the White House on the subject has raised quite a few eyebrows in Washington. Admiral Dennis C. Blair, who became DNI in January of 2009, announced his resignation on Friday. Blair’s announcement came after a prolonged period of controversy, which included bitter infighting with the CIA, and culminated with the recent partial publication of a report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which blamed “systemic failures across the Intelligence Community” for the so-called Christmas bomb plot of last December. The problem is that Admiral Blair’s replacement will be the fourth DNI in five years, after John Negroponte, Mike McConnell and Blair himself. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #356

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Analysis: US spy turf-war flares up on Capitol Hill

Dennis Blair

Dennis Blair

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Wednesday’s testimony by US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, received plenty of media coverage. But few have examined the ongoing public hearings by three separate Senate committees on the Christmas Day bomb plot in light of the turf battles taking place between US intelligence agencies. An excellent article by Politico’s Kassie Hunt does just that, by pointing out that the hearing proceedings should be viewed in light of the “three-way turf war among Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter”. Capitol Hill lawmakers appear to be aware of this: Hunt’s article quotes Peter King, the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s senior Republican member, who warns that US intelligence agencies will use the public hearings to place blame about the Christmas Day bomber fiasco on each other. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0258

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Analysis: Should US spy agencies learn from France?

Jean-Louis Bruguiere

J.L. Bruguiere

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
What precisely is wrong with the US intelligence system? I have read several good analyses lately, all sparked by the disastrous Christmas holiday week, which included the Christmas Day bomber fiasco and the killing of seven CIA personnel in Afghanistan. One is written by ex-CIA operations officer Charles Faddis, who argues that the Agency’s central deficiency is that it places emphasis on process, rather than on mission accomplishment. Another, broader, analysis is authored by Ron Capps, the US Pentagon’s former director of human intelligence/counterintelligence operations in Afghanistan, who suggests that the way to break down bureaucratic walls between US intelligence agencies is to publish more unclassified reports. The most interesting commentary, however, is written by Paris-based Jean-Louis Bruguière, a French former Magistrate who led counterterrorism investigations from 1981 to 2007. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0251 (analysis edition)

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Too much intelligence collection overwhelms US agencies

Predator drone

USAF drone

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The broad debate about America’s recent intelligence setbacks has centered on the view that US spy agencies do not share enough information with each other. Several days ago, however, Politico’s Laura Rozen noticed an important remark by an anonymous former intelligence official, buried in a longer piece in The Washington Post about the Christmas Day bomber. The official told the Post that “[t]he real story line internally [in the Christmas Day bomber affair] is not information-sharing or connecting dots […]. Information was shared. It was separating noise from chaff. It’s not that information wasn’t passed around, it’s that so much information is being passed. There’s an inherent problem of dealing with all the data that is sloshing around” (emphasis added). This view may in fact be closer to reality than the more dominant ‘turf war’ argument. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0246

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News you may have missed #0245 (CIA edition)

  • CIA saw Jordanian double spy as valuable asset. Before detonating a suicide bomb in Afghanistan last week, Jordanian double spy (or was he?) Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was considered by US spy agencies “the most promising informant in years about the whereabouts of Al Qaeda’s top leaders”.
  • CIA going through worst spell since 9/11. America’s most recognizable intelligence agency is currently going through its worst time since 9/11, what with Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and the loss of at least seven of its agents in Khost, Afghanistan.
  • US intel in Afghanistan is broken, irrelevant, says US insider. A new report (.pdf) by US Major General Michael Flynn, the top intelligence aide to International Security Assistance Force Commander General Stanley McChrystal, says the US intelligence community “is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy” in Afghanistan. The report recommends “[s]weeping changes to the way the intelligence community thinks about itself, from a focus on the enemy to a focus on the people of Afghanistan”.

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News you may have missed #0237

  • Christmas Day bomb plot exposes fissures in US spy community. As intelNews regulars know, turf wars between US intelligence agencies are nothing new. But lapses that allowed Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab to board a Detroit-bound plane with a bomb on Christmas Day, and the finger-pointing that followed, have raised questions about supposedly sweeping changes made to improve intelligence-sharing after the 9/11.
  • Mysterious life of Soviet spy couple unveiled. Soviet agents Mikhail and Yelizaveta Mukasey were legends among illegals –i.e. international spies operating without diplomatic credentials. Now the Russian government is carefully releasing information on their activities and missions, which ranged from the US to Israel, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere.

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Controversy over head of Obama’s terrorism watch-list review

John Brennan

John Brennan

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A veteran CIA official appointed to review the US government’s defective terrorism watch-list system, was actually involved in designing it, and later helped sustain it through a lucrative private-sector contract. John O. Brennan was appointed by President Barack Obama on Sunday to head a “comprehensive interagency review” of travel security measures, after it was revealed that the father of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the Christmas Day airline bomb plot suspect, had notified the CIA about his son’s activities. It turns out, however, that not only was Brennan part of the US National Counterterrorism Center team that designed the terrorism watch-list system, but he also helped sustain it while heading the Analysis Corporation, a scandal-prone private contractor charged with overseeing the watch-list system. Politico’s Carol Lee and Laura Rozen are among the very few reporters who have connected the dots on Brennan. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0236

  • Airline bomb plotter’s father warned CIA about his son. Dr. Umaru AbdulMutallab, the father of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the Christmas Day airline bomb plot suspect, visited the US embassy in Nigeria in November, where he told a CIA agent that he believed his son was under the influence of religious extremists and had traveled from London, England, to Yemen.
  • New book details Stasi spying on Günter Grass. A new book, entitled Guenter Grass im Visier: Die Stasi-Akte (Günter Grass in the Crosshairs: The Stasi Files), is to be published in March in Germany. Among other things, it will detail spying operations against the Nobel Prize-winning author by the East German secret police, the Stasi.
  • Former Albanian spymaster claiming benefits in Britain. Ilir Kumbaro, Albania’s former spymaster, is wanted by authorities for having kidnapped and tortured three men in his homeland. But after falling out with officials there, he fled to Britain in 1996, where he has lived for 13 years using the alias Shaqa Shatri.

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