Return to

Jan. 19, 2017
Notes from the Pentagon

Donald Trump to reform intelligence
One national security priority of the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trumpis to reform the heavily bureaucratized and, to some critics, politicized U.S. intelligence community.

Mr. Trump recently clashed with intelligence officials over the disclosure of a false dossier produced by a former British intelligence official that was leaked by someone in the U.S. government in a bid to embarrass the new president.

A source close to the Trump transition team said plans to do away with the director of national intelligence are still being considered, despite the announced nomination of former Indiana Republican Sen. Dan Coats to be the new DNI.

The reform could include reverting to the old system of having a director of central intelligence as a nominal chief of the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies who also ran the CIA. The new system could include separate DCI and CIA directors.

That would leave Mr. Coats as the DCI along with Rep. Mike Pompeo, the director-designate of the CIA. Both are conservatives who favor reforming the current intelligence system.

The DNI was set up after the Sept. 11 terror attacks as a way to better coordinate the many separate intelligence agencies. But its functions instead have created new layers of bureaucracy and red tape in an already stifling system.

A U.S. intelligence official told Inside the Ring that the pending reforms should include a downsizing of analysts and administrative personnel, especially a large number of lawyers who by training are risk-averse.

“The new administration needs to encourage intelligence professionals who have been harmed by the political class to come forward and reveal what has taken place,” the official said.

One target of criticism has been outgoing CIA Director John Brennan, a career intelligence analyst who critics say sharply turned the agency in a leftward direction during his tenure in Langley. He reportedly wore a rainbow lanyard while in the office in a show of support for gay-rights advocates at the agency.

Organizationally, a CIA source said Mr. Brennan weakened the agency’s storied Directorate of Operations (DO) — the espionage branch — by mixing in political appointees and analysts with operatives trained in the dark arts of intelligence.

Under Mr. Brennan, the CIA set up a course for analysts at the agency’s training center, known as “The Farm” near Williamsburg, that allowed the analysts to claim status as trained DO officers even without receiving the full spectrum of clandestine service training.

Mr. Brennan criticized Mr. Trump in an interview with The Wall Street Journal this week claiming the president-elect crossed a line in criticizing intelligence for what the president-elect said was leaks to the press and a lack of integrity.

“I found that to be very repugnant, and I will forever stand up for the integrity and patriotism of my officers who have done much over the years to sacrifice for their fellow citizens,” Mr. Brennan stated.

Mr. Trump countered in a Tweet: “Oh really? Couldn’t do much worse — just look at Syria (red line), Crimea, Ukraine and the build-up of Russian nukes. Not good! Was this the leaker of Fake News?”

Earlier Mr. Trump said of the false dossier that U.S. intelligence agencies “should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

Mr. Brennan denied he disclosed details of a secret briefing where the false dossier was discussed, and appeared to blame the FBI that he said is in charge of investigating links between Russians and U.S. citizens.

Mr. Trump’s reference to the buildup of Russian nuclear weapons indicates his administration likely will seek to undo the damage caused by the Obama administration’s 2010 New START nuclear arms pact with Russia.

Since New START went into force, President Obama cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal sharply at the same time Russia built up its nuclear warhead stockpile — above the levels of the treaty.

Today, the disparity has left the United States with 429 fewer nuclear warheads than Russia, a shortfall that analysts say undermines the strategic balance needed to maintain deterrence.

North Korean test
U.S. intelligence agencies are bracing for a possible North Korean nuclear or missile test coinciding with the inauguration Friday of President-elect Donald Trump.

North Korea has said it is planning to conduct a long-range missile test and intelligence officials have said an underground nuclear test could be carrier out with little or no warning.

Intelligence indicators of impending tests have been closely monitored at the underground nuclear test area in the northeastern part of the country.

Missile launch areas also are getting close scrutiny.

Mr. Trump sought to prevent the rogue state from developing missiles capable of hitting the United States by tweeting of earlier this month that “It won’t happen!,” after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un vowed to conduct a test.

Mr. Kim said the test would involve a missile that one day will be capable of reaching the U.S. mainland — a key reason for the limited U.S. missile defenses now deployed in California and Alaska.

One possibility for Pyongyang, according to a U.S. government official, is a first test of a new, road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile known as the KN-08. Unlike the current long-range missile known as the Taepodong, the KN-08 is easily hidden in caves or shelters and can be hidden from view while preparing for launch.

Under President Obama, North Korea has conducted four of its five underground nuclear tests. The administration has done little to discourage Pyongyang from the tests and after each test has sought additional sanctions at the United Nations.

Critics say the outgoing administration farmed out its North Korea policy to China, which has done little to dissuade the Northeast Asia communist state, an ally of Beijing, from provocative tests.

Mattis on Russia
Defense Secretary-designate James Mattis is calling for tough policies to counter the growing threat from Russia, according to his written answers to policy questions posed by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Mattis said Russia has “chosen to be a strategic competitor,” but noted that the United States engaged Moscow during the darkest days of the Cold War.

“I support the president-elect’s desire to engage with Russia now,” Mr. Mattis said. “Engagement should serve as a means to achieve national objectives. We must define these objectives and look for areas of potential cooperation with Russia.”

However, Mr. Mattis, a former four-star Marine Corps general, also called for pushing back against Russian aggression.

“We must confront Russia’s behavior, and defend ourselves if Russia chooses to act contrary to our interests,” he said.

“Challenges posed by Russia include alarming messages from Moscow regarding the use of nuclear weapons; treaty violations; the use of hybrid warfare tactics to destabilize other countries; and involvement in hacking and information warfare,” Mr. Mattis added.

Strengthening the NATO alliance is a key to meeting the Russia threat along with an integrated strategy of strengthening the alliance, he said.

President-elect Donald Trump recently said part of NATO’s mission are “obsolete,” drawing criticism from some in the foreign policy establishment.

Mr. Mattis said: “Buttressing NATO will be fundamental to meeting these challenges, and we will need an integrated strategy that strengthens the North Atlantic alliance and ensures that the Department of Defense is prepared to counter both traditional and emerging threats.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

  • Return to