Lt. General Mike Flynn, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency has resigned his position out of frustration with the military-industrial-political complex. It’s rare for me to like anything coming out the mouth of any military officer above the rank of major. Major is the rank where officers no longer directly command troops and when the legendary (and semi-fictional) frontal lobotomy is administered. Few presidents, fewer congressmen and no one at the Pentagon reward officers or NCOs for telling truth to power. Most officers that do are weeded out at the majors’ promotion boards.
What’s amazing is that Lt. Gen. Flynn wasn’t “retired” earlier for his scathing article in the January 2010 Center for New American Security entitled “Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan.” In it he took the intelligence community to task for lacking an understanding of the human-socio context of the battlefield in Afghanistan. Perhaps he wasn’t called on the carpet because everyone in the army knows what bad shape army intelligence is in. The “intelligence community” he referred to is right here at Ft. Huachuca. The U.S. Army Intelligence Center & School responded with thundering silence at General Flynn’s roasting. Flynn hit the bulls-eye.
The army’s intel “School of Excellence” responded feebly by hiring native Arab cultural experts and sending out “cultural awareness” lecturers that paint a rosy picture of “if we only understood them they would be nice to us.” Cultural awareness as currently constituted falls far short of General Flynn’s concept.
My attempts to inculcate several effective intel analysis processes mirroring Flynn’s hopes were met with swift suppression. For years I tried unsuccessfully to implement a Special Forces Area Study format to teach officer and enlisted analysts how to assimilate the kind of cultural information and apply it to the tactical situation. Another very effective, off-the-shelf database called Palantir was being used by Marines in Afghanistan at the height of the war. When I suggested army intelligence use it I was told point blank Palantir was “not an approved” (meaning expensive contractor devised) program and to “stay in my lane.” Intel analysis was my lane. I taught intel analysis to captains, warrant officers and enlisted at Ft. Huachuca. Another effective analysis tool devised by the State Department was also being used as a means of identifying, controlling (eliminating redundancy) and measuring the effectiveness of civic action projects in each Afghan province. This was at the height of the “hearts and minds” strategy. On an unclassified intel forum I suggested this process was good enough to replace the antiquated army IPB process. I quickly received a terse statement from Army G-2 at the Pentagon (i.e. inside the beltway) that ____ “is not an approved program and will not replace IPB.” In reply, another member of the forum wrote from Afghanistan “Those who use it succeed. Those who don’t use it fail.” The epitome of army intelligence inertia occurred during a discussion with a contract employee assigned to a leadership position on the 35F committee. I was urging he implement Chapter 2 (Intelligence Support) of Field Manual 3-24 “Counterinsurgency” into the curriculum. He argued against it for over an hour. As he walked out the door he admitted he had never read it. This was the manual Generals Petraeus and Mattis had co-wrote as a solution to winning in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Flynn was criticized for “resisting the old guard.” That’s bureaucratic code for making the DIA more efficient and effective – anathema to any organization inside the beltway. I’ve been to the DIA. It’s redundant with the CIA. The CIA should be the nexus for all foreign intelligence and the FBI for domestic. If the “wall” that allowed 9/11 to happen is to ever be torn down the intelligence community needs to be flatter and thinner.
If presidents and pols had understood Flynn’s contemporary environment in Iraq and Afghanistan like Bush ’41 the U.S. would not have invaded either country. Daddy Bush didn’t invade Iraq because “it was a bitterly divided country”. He understood the importance of the contemporary environment -not because he had been a cubicle-confined CIA analyst looking at one specific area of the earth through a straw – but because he had actually been to war. No president since has known this. Bush the Cheerleader didn’t ask dad for advice before using a sledge hammer when a scalpel was called for.
Stephen D. Kaplan who wrote the prescient “Balkan Ghosts” is the type of analyst Gen. Flynn is looking for. Special Forces has been doing just that for many decades. It’s taught at the 18F Operations and Intelligence Course at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, Ft. Bragg, N.C.
In the final analysis Lt. General Mike Flynn was another casualty to the idea that one person can make a difference.