Friday, May 4, 2012

Tysons Corner, McLean VA: April 2012

Tysons Corner-M clean, VA

Less than a year ago, I flew into Raleigh, North Carolina for a Spy Conference, sponsored by local media. I had a good time and learned a lot. Also I was recommended for associate membership in the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, which includes not only CIA types, but strays from military and law enforcement. I managed to slip through one of the loop holes and thus, took myself at their two day yearly symposium in mid-April, 2012.

Home base was the Crown Plaza Hotel, Tysons Corner: quite elegant! This has been a year of elegant hotels for me, what with the stays in Saudi Arabia. I must say though, Tysons Corner is not the beauty spot of Virginia - busy thruways, a collection of office buildings, a large shopping mall and the work-in-progress rail link to DC. did not encourage early sunrise sightings.

However, we spent part of one day at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence at Liberty Crossing and a full day at the Defense Intelligence Agency at Bolling AF Base. The Symposium concluded with a gala banquet. I didn’t know a soul there; looked for my sponsor, a semi-retired AF Colonel, with no success.

Most of the attendees were of the gray,white, or no haired set: about a dozen women - they came from that time where females were mostly clerical workers - half a dozen African- Americans (and about four of them female) and several Asians. They were an alert audience and made good use of the Q&As. One individual had been charged with training Afghan army recruits; another had contact with Robert Hansen, not one of the FBI’s finest; others were active with cyber security, and so on.

The military types have impressed me as no-nonsense guys, forthright and direct in their discussions. James Clapper Jr., the Director of National Intelligence, started as a Marine and retired as LTG, USAF; LTG Mike Flynn, USA,Assistant Director of National Intelligence (and soon to be Director of Defense Intelligence Agency), and LTG Ronald Burgess,USA, Defense Intelligence Director were all individuals I could respect.

The Symposium started at the hotel with a former FBI Counter Intelligence and Security Director, who who presented background on US intelligence gathering. According to David Major, Russians and Chinese are the two biggest collectors of information - and also are busy, spying on each other.

We were quite efficiently processed into the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. There were six speakers, including Director Clapper, focusing on private sector engagements, Intelligence integration, human resources, and technology. I should explain the Director Clapper is the Intelligence Czar; a position created out of the rubble of 9/11 - I asked one of the experts whether it was a helpful move or just another layer of bureaucracy; that person originally felt it was another layer of bureaucracy but now was supportive of its efforts to coordinate the collection of existing intelligence agencies.

So, here are abbreviated notes from the sessions:

Post WW2, there was a system of containment which worked given the Cold War time. However, all changed post 9/11. Since, a fully integrated intelligence community has made the nation more secure. The current approach is to be problem preventers rather than problem solvers. The Intelligence office now works closely with Congress, Civil Liberties groups and legal communities. They are learning more about the scope of social media and cell phones. Comment: need is to focus on the problem rather than just the data.

Intelligence integration makes the whole better than the parts. Basically, there all areas should work together, including the private sector, eg: academics and non-governmental organizations. It appears the US is still in the running vis a vis the Chinese. But admittedly, the US has made poor assumptions: eg: Iraq!

The worldwide Intelligence Community is changing: There used to be were similar values among the players;. now, other cultures, not all nation-states, are involved. Again, integration of information is the key, involving federal, state, local and tribal services.

Concurrent with the new crises, there is the demand to reduce costs, eg. by 25%. Which leads to out sourcing and sharing single cyber platforms. In short, the effort is to protect the mission despite taking a cut in the budget.

Per Director Clapper, agencies did acquire many more people since 9/1, but now, the agencies must deal with financial cuts. He is trying to take the negative and turn it into a positive: Integration is most important, involving all the leaders in the community. He listed several considerations: 1) sustain staff, 2) employ agile capabilities, 3) key investment to maintain strategic advantage. 4) enhance cyber security and Counter intelligence, 5) more integration with Department of Defense and allies.

In answers to questions, Director Clapper commented that the Muslim Brotherhood is not monolithic and not necessarily a terrorist organization; there are 50 pieces of pending legislation re: cyber security, overseas threats appear more serious than home grown ones, contractors have been cut by 30% as directed by Congress. and that it is hardest to deal well with things that haven’t happened.

At near daybreak the next day, nearly 200 of us gathered in three buses for the ride to Bolling AF Base. A nice day, we drove on freeways in various states of building and repair. The Defense Intelligence Agency was housed in a huge, new glass-steel building at odds with the older brick dwellings of the air base. The security arrangements were strictly TSA sans any check of individual ID?

There were a dozen participants, including LTG Burgess. Topics included discussion of a five year strategic plan, the role of Defense Intelligence Officers, Counter Intelligence/ Humint Center, collection management (strategy and programs), the National Intelligence University, and cyber security/ analysis.

Per speakers, lessons were learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, intelligence was going to do more for less. While Defense Intelligence was primarily to assist military operations, there was the emphasis on integration of information as well as working outside US Intelligence organizations and other think tanks.

Trilateral threat assessments are coordinated with US, Canada and Mexico. Drug, terrorist and cyber threats are evaluated by this coalition. The Diplomatic Attaché program is also managed by the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Before 9/11, it seems that the various agencies marched to the tune of their own drummer. Since, strides have been made to integrate the various agencies. Counter Intelligence seemed “ahead of the curve” more than other aspects of intelligence.

LTG Burgess talked of turning currents against Al Qaeda, which continues to be active in Iraq (pro-Sunni), showing up in Syria, with increased activity in Yemen, popping up in Libya, and busy in Somalia. There are current concerns with Iran and cyber security. In 2020, he sees China, as a regional power, competing with the US but not a global peer competitor. To sustain her populations, China will be busy as she must create ten million new jobs over the oncoming years.

A National Intelligence University was started in 1962 and has continued, under varying names and guises. It has a teaching, research and outreach mission. Master’s degrees are offered along with certification programs. The University is accredited.

Talking of cyber security, it appears there are three levels: hackers, criminals and purposeful actors eg: nation states , non national-states and individual groups. Recently, social media has come to the fore. There was some discussion of Wikileaks. Again there was the emphasis to collaborate on all aspects - cyber security and counterintelligence.

Lunch was in the lobby, I was seated next to an Iraqi Scud missile. There was also a shop with caps, sweatshirts, t-shirts, coffee cups and the like, labeled DIA, CIA and related identification. I decided not to buy as couldn’t quite see myself wandering about the Middle East or Central Asia with a cap or t-shirt reading CIA. In fact, there was a shuttle run from the hotel to the CIA gift shop at Herendon for the committed. I also missed that one. But I did do the Banquet - Spies in Black Ties! That turned out to be quite social. The group at our table was a chatty bunch and fun.

The speaker was a former Deputy Director of the CIA, now at Johns Hopkins University. He started by commenting that Intelligence is the least understood instrument of foreign relations. US was the last major country to organize intelligence; we have had an intelligence organization only since 1947. Since 9/11, the government has devoted resources to intelligence activity, giving it a robust legal authority, obtaining unprecedented cooperation from both civilian and military sources.

He gave background on AlQaeda, past to the present, reporting while the core is weakened but the affiliates and lone wolves have come to the fore. The US is probably safer now, but not out of the woods. His concluded with the observation that we now live in a time where events in one part of the world quickly affect the rest of us.

That was it. I did show up to the Saturday breakfast meeting, but it was a housekeeping session. I checked out and flew home. I don’t know that I would do this again: it would depend upon speakers and field trips. But I did find it worth while, once around, to experience the ambiance of this particular world.

Cost: Air fare: $440.60. Hotel: $340.38. Conference: $695.

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