Network Take: The Intelligence Community’s Critical Role
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- March 23rd, 2017
We are living in a more complex world, with more state and non-state actors demanding more of our attention. When we actively contributed to the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the success of the Solidarity Movement in Poland, and the eventual demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 after the Baltic States and the eleven Soviet Republics declared independence, we thought the Soviet Union was a spent power, requiring minimal attention.
When we decisively defeated Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1990, after they invaded and occupied Kuwait, we thought a defeated Saddam would behave. When we signed the Agreed Framework with North Korea in 1994, agreeing to build two civilian Light Water Reactors and while under construction provide heavy fuel oil as payment for the freezing of North Korea’s nuclear program, we though Kim Jong-il would comply and behave.
These developments in the early 1990s contributed to a view that the need for foreign intelligence was less important; that savings could be had by spending less money on intelligence collection and analysis, given that our principal enemies were no longer a threat. We now know that our euphoria was misplaced; that these successes were temporary and that these state actors persisted with their bad behavior. We also know that other state and non-state actors now require more of our attention, given their territorial and ideological ambitions.
Currently, Russian revanchism and North Korea’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons are proof that our initial complacency, in the mid and late 1990s, was misplaced. That these countries require continued close monitoring, which they are now getting. However, when compared to the 1990s, the 21st century has developed into an unprecedented national security challenge for the U.S.; a challenge for which we were not sufficiently prepared. We initially were overly optimistic, but fortunately, we were agile enough to put extra resources against state actors like Russia, North Korea, and Iran to enhance our collection and analysis. Indeed, we will have to spend even more to monitor these countries, knowing that their intentions are inimical to our interests.
The Middle East, the East and South China Seas, international terrorism, and nuclear proliferation all require more of our attention. As a world leader, developments in Africa, the Western Hemisphere, transnational issues like narco-trafficking, international organized crime, human rights, food and water scarcity, and climate control also require close attention.
The Intelligence Community (IC), comprised of 16 agencies and departments, responsible to the Director of National Intelligence, is our front line of defense in addressing all national security issues affecting the U.S. and its allies and partners. These 16 agencies focus only on foreign intelligence, ensuring that they are providing the President, the Congress, the warfighter, and law enforcement with the best foreign intelligence collection and analysis possible, to protect the country and to provide the intelligence necessary to deal with all international issues affecting our nation’s security. These agencies all devote considerable time and effort ensuring that their activities are in compliance with the law. Indeed, the Oversight Committees in the Senate and House of Representatives also devote considerable time and resources monitoring the activities of the IC, to provide substantive oversight and ensure compliance with the law.
Recent allegations that the IC was spying on Americans was thoroughly investigated and proven to be wrong. The IC’s counterterrorism focus has been and is foreign intelligence; ensuring that our law enforcement authorities have the best foreign intelligence possible to protect the Homeland.
Having worked in and with the IC for over three decades, I can attest to the loyalty and integrity of the women and men who work around the clock to protect our nation. They seek no fame or notoriety; their gratification is knowing that they are contributing to the security of our great nation. Many of these women and men work overseas, often in hostile environments, knowing the American people and our leaders are appreciative of their dedication and sacrifice for the nation.
What I now find most gratifying is working with college and graduate students who want to serve with public and private sector national security organizations. These young, future national security leaders aren’t interested in the money or notoriety – they care about the mission. And the mission is keeping the U.S. safe and strong—the leader of the Free World.