Monday, October 10, 2016

The Gathering Storm (Russia Edition)

This post is being written late Sunday afternoon, about three hours before the second presidential debate from Washington University in St. Louis.  At this point, we (officially) don't know what questions will be posed to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump by moderators Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC, along with members of the studio audience.  But you don't need to be a political pundit to discern that many of tonight's queries will focus on Mr. Trump and his contemptible remarks about women, made to Billy Bush (then a co-host of "Access Hollywood") almost 12 years ago.

Conversely, we'll be greatly surprised if Mr. Cooper, Ms. Raddatz and the audience questioners spend much time outside the realm of the salacious, and actually inquire about issues that actually matter to the nation's security.  And we're not referring to the border, immigration or other issues that are clearly security-related, and have dominated much of the campaign season.  Instead, it's time for a discussion on equally-pressing matters that are reaching the crisis level at hot spots around the globe.

The logical starting point is Russia.  As John Schindler recently noted in the New York Observer, we are facing a likely nuclear standoff with Russia in the Baltics region, probably before President Obama leaves office.  It's no secret that Vladimir Putin has no regard for the American leader, and he is determined to inflict another humiliation on Mr. Obama before he leaves office.

It’s long been obvious that Vladimir Putin and his inner circle view Barack Obama with utter contempt. To the hard men in Moscow, who got their schooling in the KGB, our diffident, wordy Ivy League lawyer president is a weakling—almost a caricature of everything they despise about the postmodern West.

Here the Kremlin mirrors most Russians, who find Obama a puzzling and contemptible man. This is nothing new. I’ve heard remarkable put-downs of our commander-in-chief for years, going back to 2008, even from the mouths of highly educated Russians. Their comments are invariably earthy, insulting, and nowhere near politically correct.

It’s therefore no surprise that Russians view Obama with contempt—and so does their leader. As our president winds up his second term and prepares to move out of the White House, the Kremlin simply isn’t bothering to hide that contempt any longer, even in high-level diplomacy, where a modicum of tact is expected.

Of course, Mr. Obama hasn't exactly helped his cause by ignoring Russian provocations and refusing to make tough choices--and stand behind them.  That non-existent "red line" in Syria was followed by Putin making (and keeping) his own vow to support long-time ally Bashir Assad.  Pentagon analysts claim Russia's military efforts in Syria have been far from a victory, but that misses the central point.  Putin didn't go to war to defeat ISIS; his primary objective was to prevent Assad's military collapse and weaken the U.S.-backed rebel groups trying to depose his regime.  By those metrics, the deployment has been successful.

The Russian President has derived additional benefits by showing off his modernized arsenal, and vowing to challenge the U.S. and NATO.  In recent months, Moscow has deployed two advanced surface-to-air missile systems to Syria, to protect its forces and Assad's troops from western air attack.  Shortly after the second system (the SA-23) arrived, a senior Russian military official vowed to attack U.S. aircraft over Syria, if they pose a military threat.  

And, upping the ante even more, Putin is dispatching a carrier battle group to the eastern Mediterranean, extending his air defense network well beyond the Syrian coast, and posing a potential threat to U.S. naval forces in the region. Defense analysts have speculated that any American attack against Assad would likely be a cruise missile strike, mounted by ships and submarines assigned to the 6th Fleet. 

Mr. Putin is also on the move in Europe.  Elite airborne units--potentially useful in operations against Ukraine and the Baltics--have been training west of Moscow, near Russia's borders with Poland, Latvia and Estonia.  In some instances, airborne elements have deployed out of garrison with a full complement of equipment, rehearsing mobility skills that would be useful during future operations.  The most recent airborne drills come on the heels of a command post exercise involving many of the same units; it's a textbook example of the building-block approach favored by the Russian Army (and other military elements around the world).  Start off with the command units, then broaden the exercise to include troops in the field.  

But the airborne drills aren't the most disturbing aspect of Russia's on-going military activity.  Concurrently, Moscow is holding a massive civil defense drill, involving more than 20,000 Radiological, Chemical and Biological defense troops and other first responders, along with upwards of 40 million civilians.  The exercise scenario is reportedly based on a limited nuclear conflict between Russia and the west, a concept Russia has embraced in military doctrine developed over the last 20 years.  With the loss of massive conventional forces that were disbanded with the fall of the USSR, Russian doctrine is now built around the potential first use of nuclear weapons, and employment of defensive measures to protect key military, economic and leadership assets.  

While this doesn't mean a nuclear conflict is Miminent, there are other, troubling signs that should give everyone pause.  In recent days, Moscow has deployed SS-26 Iskander ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave that lies between Poland and Lithuania.  The SS-26 has a maximum range of 435 NM; it is extremely accurate and (as you might have guessed) it can carry a nuclear warhead.  From launch positions in Kaliningrad, the Iskander can strike targets throughout Poland and even reach Berlin--a fact that isn't lost on our increasingly nervous NATO allies.  

This is not the first time the SS-26 has been dispatched to Kaliningrad, but given the current tensions, Putin is using the deployment to send a very clear signal.  With Obama in the White House, he views NATO as rudderless and weak, and Putin ratchet up the pressure to further divide the alliance during the run-up to our presidential election.  

So far, the response from Washington has been muted, to say the least.  There was a blistering comment from the Army Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley, who warned "those who wish to do us harm" that the U.S. military, "despite all our challenges," will stop you, and we will beat you harder than you have ever been beaten before."  But Milley's superiors, including the Commander-in-Chief, have been remarkably silent in the face of Russia's latest provocations.  

Maybe it's the long holiday weekend (our hard-working federal bureaucrats are enjoying a three-day break for Columbus Day).  Or perhaps the president's political advisers counseled against a high-level statement ahead of last night's debate.  Or maybe our latest bluster over Syria will go the same way as that infamous red line of a few years ago.  Put another way: we don't have anything beyond rhetoric, and Mr. Obama leaves office in less than 100 days.  He is quite happy to play out the string and leave the Baltics as yet another mess for his successor.  

But he may not get off that easy.  Putin is quite aware of how America is now perceived on the world stage and he understands the potential impact of one last humiliation before Obama exits the White House.  A Baltic version of the Cuban missile crisis?  Don't discount that possibility.
ADDENDUM:  As predicted, the Baltics didn't make the cut for questions in last night's presidential debate.  Russia was mentioned, in the context of hacking and trying to influence the U.S. election next month.  But the looming crisis on NATO's eastern flank was conveniently ignored--rather curious considering that one of the moderators, ABC's Martha Raddatz, has reported extensively on national security issues.  Then again, Ms. Raddatz (along with CNN's Cooper) seemed to abandon at pretense at impartiality, interrupting Trump five times more often than they challenged Clinton.  Against that backdrop, it's no surprise that Russian moves in the Baltics never entered the debate.             


Sunday, October 09, 2016


Before he heads out the door, President Obama is pushing a few of his pet initiatives, with little regard for their long-term impact on the nation.

Let's begin with global warming, climate change or whatever catch-phrase is now being used to perpetuate that hoax.  As the Washington Times recently reported, Mr. Obama is claiming that rising temperatures (and sea levels) will trigger new waves of massive migration, creating problems far beyond those now being experienced in the Middle East and Europe.

Never mind that the "science" behind climate change has been notoriously politicized--and global temperatures haven't risen a single degree over the past 18 years; President Obama has never been one to let the facts stand in the way of a convenient narrative.  Just the other day, he suggested that droughts (brought on, of course, by global warming) were one of the factors that caused the Syrian civil war.  So. stop blaming Bashir Assad; those barrel bombs being dropped on civilians in Aleppo are a by-product of climate change, and not the repressive tactics of a brutal dictator.

Mr. Obama has also jumped back on the diversity bandwagon.  On Wednesday, the President directed national security agencies to "strengthen the talent and diversity of their organizations."  More from the Washington Post:

National security agencies “are less diverse on average than the rest of the Federal Government,” including at the senior leadership levels, Obama said in the memorandum. “While these data do not necessarily indicate the existence of barriers to equal employment opportunity, we can do more to promote diversity in the national security workforce.”

Obama told the agencies to take a series of steps to improve diversity, including collecting, analyzing and disseminating workforce data, providing professional development opportunities and strengthening leadership accountability. He said his directive “emphasizes a data-driven approach in order to increase transparency and accountability at all levels.”

In other words, agencies like the CIA, NSA, DIA, the State Department--and others--need to hire more minorities.  Decades of affirmative action programs, specialized recruiting efforts and other initiatives have failed to place enough individuals of color in the senior ranks of the military, the diplomatic corps and the intelligence community.  

National Security Adviser Susan Rice (of Benghazi infamy) is the administration's point-person for the diversity push.  In recent remarks, she described the need to recruit and promote more blacks, Latinos and Asians as a "national security imperative."  Dr. Rice expressed disappointment that people of color represent about 40% of the nation's population, but only 15-20% of the nation's senior diplomats, military officers and intelligence officials.  So, it's a safe bet that a candidate's race will play an even more important role in future hiring and promotion decisions. 

And not surprisingly, the military is rushing to re-embrace diversity as well.  Last Friday, the Air Force released a memo--signed by service secretary Deborah James; chief of staff General David Goldfein and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody--outlining 13 new "inclusion" initiatives.  According to Air Force magazine, the new mandates include diversity requirements for certain promotion candidate pools; membership on command selection boards and panels considering airmen for recruiting duty. Additionally, the Air Force will create a new "human capital analytics office," which will use microtargeting capabilities to better attract and retain talent.

But the diversity push doesn't end there.  Air Force ROTC will receive an extra $20 million over the next five years to fund 200 new scholarships for students from "under-served and under-represented population centers.  One of the primary goals is to increase minority representation in career fields that have historically "lacked diversity," including pilot, air battle manager, missile and space operations and intelligence.  Leaders in those fields have been tasked to submit plans to reverse those trends.

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with getting more minorities into the cockpit, behind a radar console, or as part of a missile or space operations crew.  But certain words are often missing from such discussions, including "standards" and "qualifications."  When the military needs more bodies, there is often a temptation to lower standards; it happened at the height of the Iraq War, when the Army was struggling to meet recruiting quotas.  Minimum scores were lowered on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), and standards were relaxed in other areas as well, to get enough recruits into uniform.

Recruiting someone to be a pilot or intelligence officer is a different matter, but many of the same issues persist.  In the rush to get more people with the "right" background into selected AFSCs, there is tendency to relax requirements.  Minority applicants with lower scores on the Armed Forces Officer Qualification Test (AFOQT) may be admitted, in hopes of achieving diversity goals.

To be fair, there have been no reports (yet) about a serious erosion of standards among candidates who will be recruiting for those new ROTC scholarships.   But such slippage has occurred during the past.  During the mid-1990s, your humble correspondent was an Air Force ROTC instructor at an SEC school.  One of our "sister" detachments was at a historically black college and university, about 75 miles away. We met with the instructor cadre from the other school on a periodic basis, to share best practices and lessons learned.

At the same time, the USAF was in the middle of another diversity push, trying to send a minimum number of minority candidates to pilot and navigator training each year.  I remember asked the commander of our sister detachment about his thoughts on the efforts.  His answer was shorting and stunning: "it's a dumb idea," he told me, and "doomed to fail."

As the Lieutenant Colonel recounted, his detachment had sent an average of two cadets a year to pilot and navigator training during the previous four years, a period that predated his arrival at the school. Most of the cadets were African-American, though some were white, students at a third school who completed ROTC at the HBCU.

From the Colonel's perspective, most of those young people heading to UPT and UNT were doomed to fail, and it had nothing to do with their skin color.  But it had everything to do with their educational background and preparation for pilot and nav training.  Virtually all of the young officers had graduated from high school in the state--a state with notoriously poor public schools.  Many had struggled to complete their undergraduate studies, but they met the requirements for ROTC and earned their commissions.  And with the diversity push of that era, one or two headed off each year to pilot or navigator training, among the most demanding training courses in the Air Force.

According to the commander, not a single lieutenant from his detachment had completed UPT or UNT during the previously-cited four-year period.  Most of the pilot candidates washed out during the first half of UPT (a year-old program); roughly half were retained by the Air Force and trained in a different career field.  The rest were discharged, after hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent on their training.  According to the detachment commander, most of the selectees from his school were marginal candidates, with AFOQT scores that were borderline for pilot and navigator.  Obviously, the test results weren't the only predictor of potential success, but they were a useful barometer.

The Air Force persisted in its effort for a few more years, but the number of minority pilots, navigators, missileers and intel officers remained relatively low.  The detachment commander who warned about marginally-qualified candidates being thrown into the fire at UPT and UNT suggested better screening of candidates, with additional funds to help them complete ground school and earn some "stick time" towards a private pilot's license, since Air Force data shows that applicants with flight experience tend to do better in undergraduate pilot or navigator training.  His idea was rejected due to the projected cost and the perceptions that the service would be giving minority applicants an unfair advantage.

Fast forward 20 years, and the USAF appears to be back as square one.  So far, the Air Force hasn't offered any details on how it plans to meet its diversity goals, but the effort is getting off on the wrong foot.  Consider those 200 additional ROTC scholarships.  What service leaders fail to mention is that minority applicants who meet requirements for those awards are typically bombarded with scholarship offers from top schools--with no requirement for military service.  And, for a student accepting a four-year ROTC scholarship out of high school, there is no military commitment until the end of their sophomore year.  Not surprisingly, many quit the program before their service obligation begins, getting two free years of college on the taxpayers' dime.  For those who remain, the overall washout rate for the four-year scholarship program is 70%, since many can't handle the rigors of an engineering curriculum (ROTC schollys are heavily weighted towards engineering and the hard sciences).  

So, the Air Force faces a tough choice: lower academic standards (and hope some of those students make it to the cockpit, an intel billet or cyber unit, regardless of race, sexual preference or gender), or try to convince more highly-qualified minority applicants to become USAF officers.  But the odds of success for either option are decidedly slim.  It's quite likely that the Air Force secretary and chief of staff will face the same "diversity" issue in 2025 that they're facing in 2016 (and previously confronted in the 1990s).  And did we mention that the percentage of young Americans who qualify for military service is decreasing, even among those who might be competitive for a commissioning program? 

Ironically, there are more viable options for increasing diversity in the Air Force officer corps, but (so far the service hasn't shown much interest in them.  We refer to those "13-week wonders" who earn their commission through Officer Training School, the USAF version of OCS in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.  There are thousands of minority NCOs who have earned their college degree on active duty and are candidates for OTS, but most will never earn a slot in the program for various reasons.

First, there's the academic factor.  As noted previously, the Air Force has always had a preference for officers with degrees in engineering, mathematics, computer sciences, physics and similar disciplines.  Many of the NCOs who complete their bachelor's while on active duty major in business, liberal arts or other subjects that are available on-line, or through classes at the base education center.  Of course, there is a certain irony in the service's preference for technical degrees.  While no one doubts the rigor associated with an engineering, math or IT curriculum, completion of those degrees is no guarantee of success in pilot training, as a missileer, or as an intel officer.

Age can also pose a barrier.  Candidates for OTS must be commissioned by their 35th birthday, allowing them to complete 20 years of service by their 55th birthday.  And, individuals who want to be pilots must enter flight training by the age of 30.  Unfortunately, by the time most NCOs finish their degrees, they are at (or past) that age limit.  And here's the ultimate irony: Air Force OTS only commissions about 500 officers a year (roughly one-sixth of the production rate during the Reagan era) and half of the current slots are reserved for civilian applicants.  So, it's very difficult for active-duty NCOs--from the groups the USAF is targeting--to trade their stripes for a second lieutenant's bars.  Never mind that these individuals already have outstanding service records, and are more likely to make the military a career.  The existence of these obstacles make little sense if the service is truly committed to "diversity."

Expanding the OTS pool would also address issues about experience and competence among junior officers, particularly if the service selects airmen and NCOs from high-demand career fields to serve in officer positions in those same vocations.  Obviously, that won't work for pilot (the USAF only recently approved the training of enlisted drone pilots), but the enlisted-to-officer pipeline works very well in the intel career field and air battle manager, where enlisted surveillance technicians can easily make the transition to surveillance officers and weapons directors.  The Air Force would also do well to consider other possible solutions, such as a reintroduction of the warrant officer ranks, and following the lead of other services in creating limited duty officers, who provide exceptional technical expertise in various career fields.

Unfortunately, those concerns often become secondary when service secretaries, agency heads and general officers sign on for the latest diversity gambit.  The fanfare associated with the launch of such initiatives is rarely followed by the same level of enthusiasm in measuring the success (or failure) of the current scheme to increase minority representation in critical career fields.  However, there is a silver lining for members of those groups who enter the service and make it a career.  Under the new promotion systems being developed, a select number will be virtually guaranteed command slots.  That will make this latest initiative less of a outreach effort and more of a quota system.  Not that anyone at the White House or the Pentagon really cares.        


Thursday, September 15, 2016

"Sea of Fire"

At some point in the upcoming presidential debates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will (again) square off on the issue of national security.  Recent polls indicate that security concerns--such as terrorism--rank low on the list of voter priorities, but that doesn't lessen their importance.

And you don't need to be a foreign policy wonk to understand why.  As he ambles toward the exit, Barack Obama is leaving a world in shambles.  His signature foreign policy achievement (the Iranian nuclear deal) has put the Islamic republic squarely on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons, along with missiles capable of delivering those weapons to targets in Israel, Europe and eventually, the United States.

Elsewhere, Vladimir Putin is also on the march, considering more mischief in Ukraine, the Black Sea or the Baltics.  Beijing is openly challenging the U.S. in the South China Sea, expanding its network of man-man islands, many of which have been fortified.  Chinese leaders are even exploiting a personal rift between President Obama and his Filipino counterpart, cozying up to Manila which (until recently) was expressing grave concern about the PRC's expansionist policies.

And did we mention the war against ISIS is far from won? 

But in some respects, the most pressing security concerns can be found on the Korean peninsula.  Last week, Pyongyang conducted its fifth nuclear test and the most powerful since Kim Jong-un took power in 2011.  Intelligence analysts put the blast in the 10 kiloton range, roughly twice the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. 

If that isn't troubling enough, the situation on the peninsula may get worse--possibly much worse.  According to the UK Sun, some experts believe the DPRK may have enough material for up to 20 nuclear weapons by the end of the year.  That would lend credence to Pyongyang's claims that it could conduct additional nuclear tests "at any time."

To be fair, such claims represent the upper range of North Korea's potential nuclear capabilities.  But it is clear that the Hermit Kingdom has made tremendous progress in its nuclear program; from the early tests that were only marginally successful almost a decade ago, Kim Jong-un's scientists and engineers have created a system that can produce multiple devices each year, demonstrating greater explosive power with each succeeding generation of weapons.  It is also likely that Pyongyang is making progress towards miniaturizing warheads, making it easier to fit them atop land and sea-based ballistic missiles, giving it more options for hitting targets in South Korea, Japan and beyond.

North Korea's heightened WMD activity has clearly caught the attention of its neighbors.  During a recent spate of DPRK missile tests, Japan threatened to shoot them down if they threatened its territory.  Tokyo has made such vows in the past, but as North Korea launches missiles into the Sea of Japan with greater frequency, those promises have taken on a new urgency.  The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) has six destroyers equipped with the Aegis system and standard missiles designed to shoot down ballistic missiles.  Japan's Aegis destroyers have been regular participants in joint missile defense exercises with the U.S. Navy, and Tokyo plans to upgrade its Patriot land-based SAMs before 2020.  With over-lapping coverage, the Japanese are capable of engaging various types of North Korean missiles.  The question becomes: when does Tokyo finally determine the missile tests post a sufficient threat to pull the trigger?

The issue is even more critical for South Korea, which lies just across the 38th parallel from Kim Jong-un's growing nuclear and missile arsenals.  In the wake of last week's nuclear test, Seoul borrowed a page from the North Korean playbook and promised retaliatory strikes that would "erase" Pyongyang from the map, if the DPRK fired a nuclear missile at South Korea. 

Seoul also announced plans for "decapitation" strikes as a part of its response, aimed at eliminating Kim Jong-un and other senior North Korean officials.  While South Korea has a growing capability to conduct precision strikes, its ability to locate and eliminate North Korea's supreme leader is doubtful, at best.  Dictators have a knack for survival and resources that improve their odds of living to see another day.    

It's a lesson the U.S. learned during the first Gulf War, when we tried--and failed--to take out Saddam Hussein with a specially-planned decapitation mission.  An eight-inch artillery shell, modified to function as a laser-guided bomb, was flown non-stop from California to Saudi Arabia, where it was uploaded on an F-111 that would target a bunker where the Iraqi dictator was believed to be hiding.  Timing was so critical that the F-111 had already started its engines when the C-141 arrived with the weapon.  The pilot and WSO were literally briefed in the cockpit on employing the weapon, and they did their job--the artillery shell-turned-LGB burrowed deep into the ground worked as advertised, destroying the bunker. 

But there was only one problem.  Saddam had moved to another location before the strike occurred. With almost limitless intelligence and operational resources, the U.S. found it almost impossible to accurately pin-point the location of the most important target in Iraq.  South Korea would find it even more difficult to locate Kim Jong-un, who almost never announces his movements in advance, and has a vast network of underground facilities that offer protection from U.S. and ROK strikes.

Beyond plans to take out the North Korean dictator, it is very clear that Seoul is deeply concerned about its enemy's rapidly-expanding nuclear arsenal and is willing to consider "unusual" steps to counter the threat.  According to Ashai Shinbaum, the South Korean government approached the U.S. about "re-deploying" nuclear weapons to the peninsula, during bi-lateral talks conducted in May. A source familiar with the talks told the paper that ROK officials suggested an arrangement similar to those in western Europe, where NATO partners allow the U.S. to maintain nuclear weapons on their soil, at American-controlled installations.  The host nation helps provide security for the weapons and offers advice on potential employment, but the ultimate operational decision rests with the U.S.

It is difficult to underestimate the gravity of the South Korean offer.  The United States removed its nuclear weapons from the peninsula 25 years ago, and there was little consideration about a re-deployment--until the DPRK joined the nuclear club.  Officials familiar with the recent talks say the U.S. rejected Seoul's offer, fearing the reintroduction of nukes would further destabilize the region.

This may come as a surprise to members of the Obama national security team, but east Asia has devolved into a strategic mess during their watch.  North Korea's nuclear program has stoked new fears in South Korea, Japan and even Taiwan, raising whispers that some of those countries--perhaps all three--might develop their own nuclear weapons in response.  Further south, China's aggressive posturing in the South China Sea threatens trade routes used to carry trillions of dollars in raw materials and finished goods each year.  Outside of diplomatic rhetoric--and a slight increase in military patrols--there has been little response from Washington.

And that's a major reason regional tensions are boiling over from the Korean peninsula to the Malacca Strait.  With American leadership largely absent, hostile regime are aggressively pursuing their agendas.  Meanwhile, our allies feel betrayed and alone, forcing them to consider options that were unthinkable a few years ago.

That's why a debate moderator should ask Clinton and Trump if they would support a re-deployment of nuclear weapons to South Korea, along with our willingness to use WMD to protect our allies in the region.  It's a choice that will face the next president, perhaps very early in their administration. 

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Hillary's Unnoticed Revelation

Let's be charitable and say both presidential candidates were less-than-impressive during last night's Commander-in-Chief forum, which was broadcast by NBC and hosted by the Today's show's Matt Laurer.  Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appeared separately, fielding questions about national security and foreign policy from Mr. Laurer and an audience comprised of military retirees and veterans.

There had to be moments when those in the audience--and at home--were asking themselves: is this the best we can do? (Or) is there another option?  Sadly, the answer to that one appears to be "no."  Anyone thinking of voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson might want to reconsider after his disastrous answer on the Syrian civil war during an interview on MSNBC this morning.  It will be Hillary versus Trump for the big prize in November; the Queen of Lies versus the King of Exaggeration.  Your choice between a candidate who promises more of the same, failed policies of the last eight years, or a national security novice who needs desperately to get up to speed on a host of critical issues.     

Mrs. Clinton appeared first on the forum and right out of the gate, Laurer began pressing her on the e-mail issue.  Her body language and tone suggested Clinton was angry at Mr. Laurer for mentioning the scandal.  But she tried to muddle through, repeating the tired excuse that none of the classified messages sent or received on her "home brew" server had security "headers" at the top of the page, or paragraph markings identifying the highest classification of material.

What a crock.  While some systems automatically generate a header and declassification instructions for e-mails or reports produced at the classified level, most of the markings are created by the originator.  It's their responsibility to determine the overall classification level of the document and its  various sections and mark it appropriately.  Additionally, U.S. government security regulations make it very clear: individuals with access to classified should recognize and protect that information--even in the absence of security markings--and immediately report any violations to the appropriate authorities. By that standard, Hillary and her staff failed miserably, and contrary to James Comey's "assessment," they clearly broke the law.

But there was also a new revelation from Mrs. Clinton last night.  In her response to a question from Jon Lester, a retired Naval Flight Officer, the former Secretary of State claimed that she also used secure systems to discuss classified material:

I communicated about classified material on a wholly separate system. I took it very seriously. When I traveled, I went into one of those little tents that I’m sure you’ve seen around the world because we didn’t want there to be any potential for someone to have embedded a camera to try to see whatever it is that I was seeing that was designated, marked, and headed as classified.     

Lieutenant Lester wasn't allowed a follow-up and Mr. Laurer didn't seem interested in pursuing the matter, but the answer was an eye-opener for anyone who's ever held a TS/SCI clearance.  Mrs. Clinton's referral to a "wholly separate system" was an apparent reference to the classified intranets used by DoD, the intelligence community and the State Department to share extremely sensitive material.  The systems have been renamed in recent years, but they are widely known by their original designations, SIPRNET, which handles information up to and including the SECRET level, and JWICS, for material up to and including TOP SECRET/SCI level.  

Clinton's answer suggests she was viewing material or one or both networks.  Her access to SIPRNET and JWICS also suggests she had accounts on both systems, which is standard practice for anyone with that level of clearance and the need-to-know.  And did we mention that access to those systems also comes with an e-mail account?   

Mrs. Clinton's admission invites an entirely new line of relevant questions which (to our knowledge) have not been discussed, either in Congressional testimony, or the FBI's "review" of her e-mail practices.  Here are just a few of the queries that demand immediate answers: 

(1) When she went into one of those "little tents" (apparent reference to a temporary Sensitive Compartmentalized Intelligence Facility, or SCIF), did the Secretary of State access SIPRNET, JWICS, or both?  

(2)  During those "communication" sessions, was she logged onto the network using her own account, or someone else's?  And if the account(s) belong to others, who were those individuals?  

(3)  Did Mrs. Clinton have her own SIPRNET and JWICS accounts, as anyone with her position should?  Did she have e-mail accounts on those networks?  

(4)  If she was accessing SIPRNET and JWICS for classified matters, why did she find it necessary to set up her own, unsecure network, and use that system to transmit extremely sensitive material, up to the TOP SECRET/SI-GAMMA level?  (The answer to that one is painfully clear)

(5)  Did any of Clinton's inner circle utilize SIPRNET, JWICS and e-mail accounts on those networks.  If so, what material did they review and how does that compare to what appeared on the unsecure system? (The classified material on the Clinton network was obviously lifted from SIPRNET and JWICS, but the question of how it migrated (file transfer, paraphrasing) has never been explained.  

(6)  How did Clinton factotum Sidney Blumenthal--out of government service for more than a decade--gain access to TS/SCI information, which he relayed to Mrs. Clinton in his intelligence "assessment" of the situation in Libya.  As John Schindler has noted in the New York Observer, Blumental's information is almost a verbatim copy of National Security Agency (NSA) assessment on the same matter.  Blumenthal's memo, sent to Clinton on her unsecure system, even duplicated the unique reporting format used by NSA.  As far as we know, Mr. Blumenthal is not under investigation for any security violations, and strangely enough, the FBI notes on the Clinton e-mail probe never mention the GAMMA material that found its way onto that infamous bathroom server.  Note: the official FBI probe found only one government e-mail account associated with Hillary Clinton, which was operated "on her behalf" and used to send routine, unclassified administrative messages to the State Department staff. 

While there's a steady drip of new information about e-mail gate almost every day, Mrs Clinton may not have to answer many questions about it.  Amazingly, the subject never came up during a hastily-scheduled presser this morning, just before Hillary flew to a campaign stop.  Congress is still looking at the matter, though it's doubtful anything will happen before the election, and FBI leadership considers the matter closed.  So, Clinton will try to keep avoiding the issue, right up until--and after--November 8th. 

As for Mr. Trump, last night was not his finest hour, underscoring the need for him to dig deeper (and solicit more advice) on issues relating to national security.  Defeating 16 opponents in the primary is quite a political feat, but it doesn't mean you're immediately qualified to be commander-in-chief.  We agree that judgment is an important quality for a a president, but without experience--or the willingness to surround yourself with advisers with the right expertise--presidents can make critical mistakes.  Mr. Trump also needs to re-think his mutual admiration society with Vladimir Putin; just hours before the forum, a Russian SU-27 fighter came dangerously close to a Navy P-8 patrol aircraft over the Black Sea.  Trading compliments will only encourage Russia's aggressive posturing against the west.  

Currently, Trump enjoys a solid lead among military personnel and veterans; most figure he can't be worse than the last eight years, while others reject Clinton for her criminal behavior.  As they contemplate a Flight 93 election, read this recent piece by someone who truly understands today's global environment and the hard choices that must be made by the next commander-in-chief.  Mattis 2016.  What might have been.       


Friday, August 26, 2016

What Might Have Been (Iran Edition)

For the second time in three days, there has been a confrontation between U.S. and Iranian naval vessels in the Persian Gulf.  During today's incident, an American patrol craft fired three warning shots into the water after four Iranian boats harassed U.S. and Kuwaiti Navy vessels in the northern Persian Gulf. As CNN reports: 

"At one point, the Iranian boat came within 200 yards of one of the US Navy boats. When it failed to leave the area after the Navy had fired flares and had a radio conversation with the Iranian crew, the US officials said, tthree he USS Squall fired three warning shots. Following standard maritime procedures, the Navy fired the shots into the water to ensure the Iranians understood they needed to leave the immediate area."  

The episode came just two days after four Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels staged a "high-speed intercept" of the guided missile destroyer USS Nitze in the Strait of Hormuz.  

American officials said two of the vessels slowed and turned away only after coming within 300 yards of the US guided-missile destroyer as it transited international waters near the Strait of Hormuz, and only after the destroyer had sent multiple visual and audio warnings.  In response, a senior IRGC naval officer said Iran will continue its close-quarters intercepts of American vessels, maneuvers deemed "unsafe" and "unprofessional" by the U.S. Navy.  

The most recent showdowns in the Gulf are merely the latest in a string of dangerous incidents involving Iranian military forces.  Last December, one of its vessels fired a rocket near the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman; that was followed by the capture and brief detainment of 10 American sailors whose Riverine broke down during a transit from Kuwait to Bahrain and drifted into Iranian waters.  And just last month, one of Iran's naval craft sailed close to the USS New Orleans while the Commander of US Central Command, General Joseph Votel, was on board.   
And, did we mention recent revelations that the Obama Administration paid a $400 million ransom to secure the release of four American hostages from Iran last year?  Or that more money is on the way, helping Tehran finance its own military modernization program, and fund terrorist proxies around the world. 

Then, there's the nuclear deal, which places Iran squarely on the path to developing those weapons.  Iran's partnership with North Korea will provide the expertise needed to extend the range of Tehran's ballistic missiles, so an Iranian ICBM--capable of a nuclear warhead to the CONUS--is a virtual certainty, and perhaps by the end of this decade.

Against that grim backdrop, it's a fair question to ask what might have been, particularly if the U.S. had pursued regime change as a priority in Iran.  And there were opportunities, most recently during the so-called "Green Revolution" in 2009.  After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his faction won the presidential election ("stole" is probably a better term), thousands of Iranians took to the streets, demanding change. 

The widespread unrest threatened to topple the Tehran regime, which responded brutally.  Between 800 and 3,000 protesters were killed in the street; hundreds more disappeared and were executed in Iranian prisons.  President Obama refused to lift a finger in support, claiming the demonstrators--which represented a broad cross-section of Iranian society--didn't represent "real change."  He never admitted publicly that the Iranian election was riddled with fraud, aimed at keeping Ahmadinejad and the mullahs in power.

Why was Obama so insistent on letting the Iranian revolution die on the vine?  We finally have some answers, thanks to Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon and his new book, The Iran Wars.  Eli Lake of Bloomberg devoted a recent column to Solomon's work and its revelations.  He affirms what many long suspected; Obama's obsession over reaching some sort of deal with Iran overruled any other considerations; he was quite willing to let the Green Revolution die on the vine, to preserve his then-secret overtures to Tehran.  As Mr. Lake writes:

It's worth contrasting Obama's response with how the U.S. has reacted to other democratic uprisings. The State Department, for example, ran a program in 2000 through the U.S. embassy in Hungary to train Serbian activists in nonviolent resistance against their dictator, Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic, too, accused his opposition of being pawns of the U.S. government. But in the end his people forced the dictator from power.

Similarly, when Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze met with popular protests in 2003 after rigged elections, George W. Bush dispatched James Baker to urge him to step down peacefully, which he did. Even the Obama administration provided diplomatic and moral support for popular uprisings in Egypt in 2011 and Ukraine in 2014.

Iran though is a very different story. Obama from the beginning of his presidency tried to turn the country's ruling clerics from foes to friends. It was an obsession. And even though the president would impose severe sanctions on the country's economy at the end of his first term and beginning of his second, from the start of his presidency, Obama made it clear the U.S. did not seek regime change for Iran.  

And, as Mr. Solomon reveals, the president's over-arching desire to strike a deal with Iran influenced critical decisions in other areas.  It's the main reason he walked away from the infamous "red line" in Syria three years ago.  Iranian negotiators told their American counterparts the nuclear talks would end if the U.S. intervened against Syrian dictator--and Iran ally--Bashir Assad.  Obama blinked.  The President also took the unusual steps of ending U.S. programs that documented human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic and wrote letters to Iran's Supreme Leader, assuring him that the we had no plans to overthrow him.  

In the end, Obama got his badly-flawed nuclear deal--and a lot more.  Iran is more belligerent and aggressive than ever before, as evidenced by the recent naval encounters in the Gulf.  And the situation isn't likely to improve anytime soon.  Tehran got everything it wanted in the nuclear accord, and the return of long-frozen Iranian assets in the U.S. will provide a funding stream for new military hardware, the nuclear program and various terrorist allies.  

To be fair, there is no guarantee that American support would have guaranteed the success of the Green Revolution.  But as Mr. Lake writes, it was definitely worth a gamble.  Installing a new Iranian regime would have been a game-changer across the Middle East, likely resulting in a nuclear deal that effectively dismantled the Iranian program and eradicated the emerging threat.  The situation in places like Syria might have become more manageable and there's even the possibility that Tehran's support for groups like Hezbollah would fade.  Without that assistance, the group would become less of a threat to Israel and its stranglehold over Lebanon might decrease as well.  

Unfortunately, all of those scenarios are permanently banished to the realm of what "might have been," thanks to the obsessive and feckless behavior of Barack Obama.  Mr. Solomon's book is on our reading list, since he clearly breaks new ground in reporting one of the story's most important diplomatic stories.  One thing we're wondering about: what role did Presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett play in all of this?  Ms. Jarrett, the president's closest confidante was born in Iran to American parents and, by some accounts, retains a certain affinity for the land where she grew up.  

Nothing wrong with that, but Jarrett seems to be an invisible hand in the diplomatic activity that pursued the nuclear deal to the exclusion of everything else.  One report indicates that Ms. Jarrett played an active role in secret talks with Iran before the public negotiations began.  Never mind that the presidential adviser has no real experience in diplomacy or national security matters.  But she does have Mr. Obama's ear, and some observers believe that Jarrett played a role in the departure of Ambassador Dennis Ross from the president's national security team early in his tenure.  Ross, a veteran Middle East hand, favored a much tougher approach in negotiations with Iran.  Needless to say, that didn't sit well with Mr. Obama or Ms. Jarrett. 

In the end, the president's singular focus on "winning over" Iran--encouraged by members of his inner circle--spelled doom for brave Iranians who rose up during the Green Revolution.  Some of them still languish in prison to this day.  Not surprisingly, the Obama administration isn't doing anything to help them, since we no longer track human rights abuses in Iran.                 



Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mr. Putin's New FOB

As we noted on Twitter (@natehale) earlier today, the difference between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama can be summed up rather succinctly.  Mr. Putin plays geo-political chess; President Obama is stuck on "Words With Friends."

Evidence of that analogy can be found in the Russian president's latest move, which took many observers by surprise.  In a matter of a few hours, Putin not only altered the balance of power in the Middle East, he also established a serious threat to one of our military trump cards--the ability of U.S. carrier battle groups to operate and project power in the Persian Gulf and beyond.

Al-Masdar, the Israel-based Arabic news service, was among the first to report Mr. Putin's move: the deployment of TU-22M "Backfire" bombers to Hamadan Airbase in west-central Iran.  Photos published on Al-Masdar's website (and re-posted at revealed at least four Backfires at Hamadan, along with support aircraft.


Russian TU-22M "Backfire" bombers on the ramp at Hamadan Airbase, Iran, just hours before striking targets in Syria (Al-Masdar photos via  

And less than 24 hours after they arrived, the Russian bombers launched a highly-publicized strike against terrorist targets in Syria.  It marked the first time since the 1979 revolution that Iran has allowed a foreign power to conduct military operations from its territory.  From the U.K. Telegraph:

“Flying with full bomb loads from Iran’s Hamadan airbase, the aircraft carried out group attacks on Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra positions,” the ministry said. Jabhat al-Nusra is the former name of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, a powerful rebel jihadist group previously affiliated with al-Qaeda

Fighter escorts for the mission flew out of Russia’s Hmeymim airbase in western Syria. All aircraft returned to their respective bases after the mission, the ministry said.

Iranian officials confirmed that the country has offered Russia use of military infrastructure for its air campaign in Syria on Tuesday.


Tuesday’s mission is thought to be the first time Russian aircraft have flown missions from Iran since Moscow launched air strikes in Syria in September last year, and potentially marks a major expansion of Russia’s military presence in the Middle East.

Not surprisingly, many media accounts focused on Hamadan's relative proximity to targets in Syria.  Operating from Iran, the TU-22Ms (and other Russian strike aircraft) can reach the battlefield sooner, carrying larger bomb loads and burning less fuel.  

But Mr. Putin has another reason for deploying bombers to a forward operating base in Iran--and it has nothing to do with Jabhat al-Nusra, or efforts to prop up Bashir Assad's regime.  Moscow's motive for sending the Backfires to Hamadan is also rooted in sending a message to the U.S., and specifically, our naval forces which patrol the Persian Gulf.  

For decades, our ability to project power in the region has been predicated (at least in part) on the Navy's ability to send carrier battle groups into the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.  The presence of a carrier helps ensure control of vital sea lanes of communication (SLOCs), used by supertankers carrying oil to markets in the Far East, Europe and even North America.  

The presence of TU-22Ms at Hamadan poses a new threat to those shipping lanes--and our ability to keep them open.  While the Backfire is an aging weapons system--it first entered operational service in the early 1970s--it remains a potent threat to naval vessels.  In fact, the Russians largely designed it as a "carrier killer," firing anti-ship missiles at long range.  The threat posed by the Backfire (and other Soviet-era bombers) was one of the key factors in development of the F-14 Tomcat and AIM-54 Phoenix missile, which were built to destroy enemy strike aircraft before they could launch against the carrier and its escorts.  

For a naval strike mission, the newest TU-22M (NATO reporting name Backfire C) carries up to nine missiles, three AS-4 "Kitchen," mounted internally or on wing pylons, or up to six AS-16 "Kickback," carried on a rotary launcher in the weapons bay.  The AS-4 first appeared in the early 1960s and remains in production today; newer variants have been updated with a datalink (to allow mid-course updates).  The Kitchen can carry either a nuclear or conventional warhead; it has a maximum range of 320 nautical miles.  

Like the AS-4, the Kickback was originally fitted with a nuclear warhead, and designed to blast through enemy defenses, allowing Russian bombers to reach their targets.  With a range of 160 NM, the Kickback was similar to the U.S. Short-Range Attack Missile (SRAM), which was carried on our strategic bombers for decades.  The AS-16 follows a dive profile, climbing to 40,000 feet before plunging down on its target.  At least one variant of the missile is designed to target enemy ships, including aircraft carriers.  

Operating from Hamadan (or other bases in Iran), Russian TU-22s could target U.S. battle groups in the Persian Gulf while remaining over land, inside the coverage of S-300s and other advanced surface-to-air missile systems.  Moscow recently began delivering S-300 batteries to Iran and if they follow operational practices in Syria, the Russians could deploy their own SAMs near forward operating bases and integrate them with the host nation air defense network.  

To be fair, the U.S. Navy has a number of counter-measures to deal with Backfires and their missiles.  In addition to the F/A-18s on the carrier, there are interceptor missiles (SM-2/3) on Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers, along with short-range defensive systems (Sea Sparrow, CIWS) on virtually all vessels.  TU-22M deployments to Hamadan--or other Iranian bases--won't keep our carrier groups from sailing into the Persian Gulf, but it will be one more factor naval commanders must account for.  The same holds true for other American military assets in the region.  

Which brings us back to Mr. Putin, who understands a thing or two about geopolitics and power projection.  In the span of less than a year, he has established a military presence that threatens both the eastern Mediterranean (and the Suez Canal) along with the Persian Gulf.  Meanwhile, the reaction here at home has been troubling, to say the least.  President Obama and his minions keep telling us that Putin's strategy is doomed to fail--never mind the recent gains by Russian surrogates on the ground, and the return of Moscow's military presence in key regions.  There is no evidence Hillary Clinton would try a different approach in dealing with Putin.   

As for Donald Trump, he seems to favor giving Russia a free hand in the Middle East, as part of "better relations" with Moscow.  Such thinking is both naive and dangerous--no wonder Putin is on the march.  Leadership is on vacation in the U.S. and the former KGB Colonel is going keep rolling the dice; he has much to gain and virtually nothing to lose, both now and after election day.    


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Cooking the Intel Books

You remember the refrain: "Bush lied, people died."  That phrase took on a life of its own following the invasion of Iraq; the "failure" to discover Saddam's alleged WMD arsenal, and allegations that intel assessments had been altered--if not actually fabricated--to support administration policies.

As a grand conspiracy, it had to be the greatest of all times.  Turns out that not only did U.S. intelligence believe that Saddam Hussein had resurrected his WMD program, so did the spooks in the UK, France, Germany, Russia and just about every other country with a credible intel service.  The problems, as later documented by independent review panels in the U.S. and Great Britain, was "group think" among intelligence experts who feared down-playing a potential threat in the post 9-11 world.  

It's a phenomenon I've experienced first-hand.  As a analyst, I know the perils of challenging the status quo or what the community refers to as the "consensus" about a particular situation  or threat.  Once the template is set, it takes very compelling evidence to change an assessment, particularly on something as important as an enemy's WMD capabilities and a potential decision to go to war.

Journalist Judith Miller, who would never be described as a member of the "vast right-wing conspiracy," nicely summarized the issue--and its impact on policy decisions--in a piece written earlier this year:

"No, President Bush did not take America into a war because he was strong-armed by a neoconservative cabal. As President Bush himself famously asserted, he was the “decider.” And no, he didn’t go to war for oil. If we wanted Saddam’s oil, we could have bought it.

President’s Bush decision to go to war was based on the information that he and his team relied on -- information that was collected by the world’s top agents and analyzed by the world’s top analysts, including the intelligence agencies of France, Germany and Russia, countries whose leaders did not support going to war. But they all agreed on one thing -- Saddam had and was continuing to develop WMD.

Our intelligence professionals, and those of major European countries, overestimated Saddam’s capabilities. Mistakes like that filter through the system -- from the White House to Congress to journalists to the public. And those mistakes impact policy. But here’s the key thing to remember -- they were mistakes…not lies."

But what if intelligence estimates were "sexed-up" (borrowing the Brits' term) to support a favored narrative or policy option?  According to a House of Representatives Joint Task Force, that's exactly what happened at US Central Command (CENTCOM), after intel analysts filed a whistle-blower complaint, alleging that assessments were manipulated to "present an unduly positive outlook" on CENTCOM efforts to train the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and combat ISIS.  

Appointed by the chairmen of three House committees (Armed Services, Intelligence and Oversight), the task force has released its interim conclusions on the matter.  And it's not a pretty picture; Congressional investigators found that changes in the command's intelligence directorate (J-2) "resulted in the production and dissemination of intelligence products that were inconsistent with the judgments of many senior, career analysts at CENTCOM."  

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  According to the report, the work environment in the J-2 began to deteriorate after the departure of CENTCOM commander General James Mattis and his senior intelligence leadership.  Mattis, a legend in the Marine Corps and one of the finest general officers of his generation, was forced out in Tampa in 2013, after running afoul of President Obama and his national security team.  

Mattis's replacement brought in a new J-2, Army Major General Steven Grove.  Under his leadership, the directorate established a new Analytic Review Team (ART) to improve the "quality and consistency" of products generated by analysts working in the command's Joint Intelligence Center (JIC).  According to investigators, the ART quickly grew from a single reviewer to a multi-member team, and resulted in slower production of intelligence assessments.  The analyst who filed the whistle-blower complaint alleged that the ART was used by senior intel leaders to exert more control over J-2 reporting and its contents.  Other analysts claimed the rationale for the ART was never fully explained and CENTCOM's previous, three-step review process provided a "more than adequate" quality control process.  

About the same time (summer of 2014), General Grove also created a "fusion center" within the J-2 to provide additional reporting that focused on ISIS and related issues.  Some analysts told investigators that it was "never clear" how JIC personnel would contribute to the new center; others claimed the fusion team actually became something of a dumping ground for intel specialists whose views disagreed with those of senior intelligence leaders.  

Analysts also stated that changes in the J-2s daily intel summary (or INTSUM) were also used by leadership to tighten control over assessments and their findings.  Additionally, the task force found that CENTCOM's intelligence directorate relied too heavily on operational reporting to "soften" their estimates, and (perhaps most damning), they discovered that the more "optimistic" assessments were not supported by estimates from other elements of the intel community. 

And, there was an unprecedented amount of "coordination" between the J-2 and officials at the top of the intel chain.  From the task force summary:

The CENTCOM Director of Intelligence or his deputy had, and continue to have, secure teleconferences with the Joint Staff Director of Intelligence and senior ODNI leaders—frequently including the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). These calls took place several times per week before daily intelligence briefings by the DNI to the President. Senior CENTCOM Intelligence Directorate leaders reported that neither the Director of the DIA nor other COCOM Directors of Intelligence have participated in these calls.

The frequency of these interactions could have provided CENTCOM leaders with outsized influence on the material presented to the President outside of formal coordination channels. These frequent interactions are at odds with the DNI James Clapper’s testimony to Congress that “intelligence assessments from CENTCOM…come to the national level only through the Defense Intelligence Agency.

In other words, Clapper was "consulting" with CENTCOM just before his daily brief to President Obama, but the information he received was never vetted against data from other agencies.  At best, that's sloppy, inexcusable tradecraft.  At worst, it's "cooked" intelligence, offering carefully-tailored analysis from a single source that fits a desired narrative.  Obviously, that the more "sunny" assessments from CENTCOM meshed nicely with administration claims of "progress" in the war against ISIS.  

This is intelligence malpractice of the first magnitude, and the analysts at Central Command were justified in filing a formal complaint.  Unfortunately, it looks like nothing will come of it, although the DoD Inspector General is continuing its own probe into the matter.  General Grove has moved on to a new assignment, and his civilian deputy (identified as a key participant in the analytic scheme) remains in place at CENTCOM.  And Jim Clapper is still gainfully employed as well.  

Many spooks, current and former, once had great respect for General Clapper, who enjoyed a brilliant career in the Air Force and later, won plaudits for his management of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) under President Bush.  But as DNI, he has been a tremendous disappointment.  He lied in testimony before Congress on NSA domestic collection efforts in 2013, and now, he's been caught in another fib about how military intelligence on ISIS reaches the highest levels of our government.  

But DNIs serve at the pleasure of the commander-in-chief and Clapper isn't going anywhere.  He has apparently mastered the fine art of telling his boss what he wants to hear, which speaks volumes about that "modified" analytic and production processes at CENTCOM, and the preferences of the man who is the ultimate consumer of that intelligence.