Three Key Promotions in U.S. Intelligence

In the old days of Kremlinology, our side’s “Soviet analysts” (I was one as a kid, back in 1985-86) would pore over personnel lists and announcements of Politburo or Central Committee appointments, seeking clues to the direction of Party doctrine and intent. Military personnel promotions and reassignments were also studied closely to divine any insight into Soviet military policy.

There’s not a direct analogy to American military leadership promotions, but those lists are also studied intently, by peers and colleagues within the military branches, and also by experts throughout defense industry circles who can often decode Pentagon politics by watching who gets an extra star and who gets passed over.

Friday the U.S. Senate confirmed several key Army promotions, including three which I consider to be the most critical military intelligence positions in the nation. 

The nominations had been announced by President Bush several weeks ago.  I had Twittered earlier rumors of one of the most significant moves, and obviously nothing untoward was perceived by the Senate, so it went through today – Gen. Ron Burgess named as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  He has been serving as director of the intelligence staff in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), a novel role embodying the much closer relationship between civilian intelligence and military intelligence since Don Rumsfeld was relieved as SecDef back in 2006. 

I’ve only met Burgess a few times but one was very up close and personal, when he brought the new DNI Mike McConnell by our offices a year and a half ago for a sit-down visit and orientation on “Today’s DIA.”  Our Deputy Director/CIO Mike Pflueger asked Bob Gourley and me to give McConnell and Burgess some in-depth demo’s of DIA’s latest technical programs and innovations, which we did with great exuberance and I believe great effect. McConnell was highly complimentary, which had repercussions for DIA over the next year in several beneficial ODNI decisions, and we also noticed afterwards that Burgess paid far more attention to DIA than one might have expected from his ODNI perch.  (Readers who have served within the intelligence community know about DIA’s long-running inferiority complex vis-a-vis CIA and NSA.)

That demo day, we were lucky to be the last stop on the DNI’s schedule. He and Burgess plopped down with us in Pflueger’s office and stayed for an hour and a half – much longer than scheduled – to discuss the implications of the technologies we were showing (Web 2.0 included).  Burgess described several of our projects as “eye-opening,” and his enthusiasm was palpable.  He’s not a West Point grad – he got started in Auburn’s ROTC program, and scrambled through a great career.  Guys like that are sometimes more willing to move new things along expeditiously, if you know what I mean.  As DIA Director he’ll have the opportunity to keep the Agency’s current staff hustling forward technologically, something that’s required by end customers – and they’re not all sitting in the Pentagon’s E-Ring.

Kimmons to ODNI, Zahner to G2

One of the other two significant moves announced today was the selection of Gen. Jeff Kimmons to replace Burgess at ODNI; this cements that new tradition of a high-ranking uniformed official as a key advisor to the Director of National Intelligence, and should facilitate the ever-closer ties between military intelligence and other IC agencies.  I worked with Kimmons fairly closely (some thought too closely!) while he served as G2 (chief of staff of Army Intelligence). Absolutely key role, which he took from Gen. Keith Alexander, who went on to head NSA, where he still sits.  Kimmons understands the intelligence needs of the modern Army better than just about anyone I know; he gets passionate about what the field soldier needs

Rounding out the troika was the promotion of Gen. Rick Zahner to follow Kimmons as G2.  Zahner led Army Intelligence in Iraq when Mike Pflueger and I paid that first visit to Baghdad back in 2005, and I remember him working 18 hour days regularly; I briefed him the day I was leaving and he asked me with a smile but in all seriousness, “Why on earth would you want to leave this excitement? We’ve got a place for you right here in the Perfume Palace.”  He’s one of the most globally experienced of his generation of Army intell professionals.

All in all, good appointments from my perspective. Curious to hear what others think, and I’m sure I will – there’s no more resounding gossip chamber than the Pentagon.

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5 Responses

  1. So where is Dale Meyerrose heading?

  2. Good question; when he tells me I’ll let ya know.

  3. Do you have any insight into the effect of Meyerrose’s resignation on the future of the information sharing standards he has championed?

  4. Well, “championed” might be a bit strong, though he certainly advocated volubly. I am a fan of standards, but actual funded work is more important. When I first started working with the IC (before joining, looking in from the outside) in 2001-02, I learned of the existing agreements and policy pronouncments on “info-sharing standards” and XML (ICML) pilots. Thus began five years of watching bureaucratic squabble after squabble at the IC (and ODNI) level, which became a running joke. The partnership with DoD on standards was long ready and awaiting top-level buy-in, which came slowly. As for the future, there’s an unfortunate timing issue, with only an “Acting” CIO for at least the next 6 months. Pat Gorman (the Acting) is a good guy and friend, but I doubt will feel empowered to move out aggressively during that interregnum.

  5. […] year about this time, I covered “Three Key Promotions in U.S. Intelligence ” – and likened it to my young days as a Reagan-era Cold War Soviet analyst, practising […]

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