A few words about a few great Pentagon leaders

I was thinking about the Pentagon over the long weekend – appropos, given the Memorial Day celebration. But my thoughts were also sparked by viewing a 9/11 documentary, reviving all the memories of that dark day’s attacks on New York and Washington – which ultimately led to my joining the ranks of defense intelligence for a while.

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DNI Flags at Half-Mast

Only the second-ever Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, resigned today effective immediately. As the Associated Press reported this afternoon in the wake of the announcement, “Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess, Jr. is temporarily serving as acting national intelligence director… McConnell’s letter did not explain why he resigned before the Senate’s confirmation of his replacement. President Barack Obama has nominated retired Adm. Dennis Blair to be the next national intelligence director.” 
Analysis:  Given the impending Senate hearings on Denny Blair’s confirmation and the expected smooth sailing, most people I know were mildly surprised that McConnell jumped ship today, rather than waiting for a formal turnover to a confirmed Blair. McConnell has had a solid, successful track record of leading the IC in an era of long-needed reform, while contributing to a track record in his tenure of zero terrorist attacks on American soil.

odni-red-flagsBut then my inbox pinged with another notice from the Office of the DNI: release of “The 500-Day-Plan Update at Day 400” (download the PDF version here).  It contained a graphic depiction of the troubling challenges remaining – actually using graphic “red flags” to mark areas at risk.  More on the flags below.

Those who work in and with the intelligence community have been intimately familiar with the DNI’s 500-Day Plan.  When it was first drafted I was still in government and had my tiny slice of input into its composition through the interagency review process. Its release was hailed by some (“ODNI Earns Kudos for 500-Day Plan,” in Federal Computer Week) and greeted with a yawn in some sectors of the community itself. “Another reform plan? I’ll make room on the shelf.” Continue reading

Some say Obama has already chosen Cyber Czar

I’ll wade into the breach again, of analyzing (and trying to anticipate) some national-security appointments for the new Obama Administration.  Today I must admit that I’m taken with the latest reportage from the U.K. Spectator – a quite conservative publication not usually known for its closeness to the Obama inner circle.

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Bob Gates and the future of defense thinking

Now that Bob Gates is officially going to stay on as Secretary of Defense in the Obama Administration, it’s worthwhile to refresh our understanding of his thinking. Continue reading

Walled-Garden Wikis and Candlepower

Fact: Last night the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) announced it has “moved its C2Pedia Registry to the unclassified network enabling more potential users to access and edit the site, hoping it will ultimately improve the quality of data.”  C2Pedia is a MediaWiki-driven online knowledge base of information about Command and Control (C2), with specific information about more than 200 C2 systems used across the Department of Defense and the armed services.

Analysis: The profusion of wikis in official government circles is an interesting expression of the value of social media for enterprise knowledge management, but for the most part inside agency or network firewalls, denying access to the public at large and therefore incorporating only the wisdom of “the inside crowd.” The State Department’s Diplopedia sits on their intranet (ironically called “OpenNet”), as the New York Times pointed out in a story a few weeks ago (“An Internal Wiki that’s Not Classified“), implying a distinction (without a difference to my mind) between Diplopedia and the IC’s Intellipedia, which has an unclassified version as well – but it also sits on a firewalled network!

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, testified to Congress recently about the value of wikis and social media within enterprises, and pointed out the distinction between “within-the-agency” verticalized information sharing, a la Diplopedia, and horizontal sharing across organizations as exemplified by the IC’s Intellipedia, which as I mentioned has a firewalled unclassified version as well as its classified-network versions, all accessible from any of the intelligence community’s sixteen agencies and beyond.

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Click on My Head and You’re Classified 2.0

Fact: According to the latest McKinsey Global Survey report, “Building the Web 2.0 Enterprise,” many companies find themselves actually changing organizationally, both internally and externally, as a result of adopting Web 2.0 tools and practices. 

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CIA 2.0: The Agency’s CIO and Change

Fact: CIO magazine is running a big story on the CIA’s Chief Information Officer Al Tarasiuk and his IT operation, and their online site is breaking it up into a four-part series running this week.  Below I analyze the series.

Analysis: By the halfway mark in the series, the magazine’s reporter Thomas Wailgum had only accomplished a fairly rote recounting of what CIA is, what its CIO does, and how both those factors have changed since the good ol’ spy days amid the challenges of a post-9/11 world.

Part Onedescribed “a business-IT alignment project like few others,” although it mainly served to introduce CIO magazine’s broad readership to the unfamiliar world of a walled-off intelligence agency, waxing on about the hyper-security at Langley.  Part Two similarly was background on the bureaucratic culture of the agency and its relegation of IT to backwater status – until 9/11 came along.

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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. 

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How to Find Research: Here, There, Everywhere

FACT: The Washington Post today has a story in the Business section (“Intelligence Agency Joins U-Md. Research Center“) about the relationship between IARPA and the University of Maryland, the location of the planned new IARPA headquarters. 

ANALYSIS: UMd has a set of valuable relationships with the public- and private-sector national security community, and the IARPA startup is just the latest agency to benefit.   Proximity is key, for research and bureaucracy.  In Maryland’s case, IARPA Director Lisa Porter told an IEEE interviewer last month that “It’s nice not to be sitting right next to one particular agency. It’s also nice to be near a university because we’re sending a message that we want to bring in nontraditional partners: academia, industry. It sends a nice message that we’re embracing the broad community to help us solve these challenging problems.”

I lament sometimes that Charlottesville (home to my undergraduate alma mater) is a good two hours away from DC, as even that distance puts a frustrating limit on the amount of joint work that winds up being done with Virginia faculty and students. 

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Pentagon’s New Program for Innovation, in Context

FACT: According to an article in today’s Washington Post, the Pentagon has announced “the selection of six university professors who will form the first class of the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellows Program. The professors will receive grants of up to $600,000 per year for up to five years to engage in basic research — essentially a bet by the Pentagon that they will make a discovery that proves vital to maintaining the superiority of the U.S. military.”

ANALYSIS: This new program is an innovation from DoD’s Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E), and since tomorrow I’ll be at Ft. McNair for a two-day conference sponsored by DDR&E on Strategic Communications, I’ll congratulate John Young and his staff for the good idea.

But the Post article falls short in two ways: one immediate (it leaves out key information about next year’s program and the upcoming deadline!) and one longer-term (it ignores the overall context of federal support for R&D).  I’ll fill in the blanks below.

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