10 September 2007

U.S. Director of National Intelligence indicates Cuba's priority

Under questioning from Senator Lieberman, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell revealed Cuba’s priority level in the counter-terrorism effort:

Mission managers engage in strategic planning and collection management against our hardest targets. Today, we have mission managers for North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, counterterrorism, counterproliferation and counterintelligence.

I provide below more context for his remarks. But I can't remember in either Bush or Clinton's administration an intelligence director placing Cuba among our greatest international security concerns.

In the recent past, US officials would talk about Cuba as though she were a problem in the hemisphere but one for other nations (or markets). An irritant for us, not a priority.

And with Hillary Clinton saying US policy toward the island won't change, I don't see the political advantage. Inflating Cuba’s significance to comfort CANF is not necessary. So there’s something to be taken seriously here.

As you’ll see, information sharing among agencies is now the order of the day (which has to be a concern for those of us who like to salsa with the Commies).

Nonetheless, the administration has clearly accepted the damning charge that 9/11 could have been prevented if only the agencies had worked together

(or, better yet, had not ignored FBI agent Coleen Rowly. They certainly don’t want to hear these facts again,


But what’s done is done. And with the leader of Hezbullah, that fat ugly guy who attracts a crowd, publicly thanking Chavez and (to a lesser extent) Cuba for the Lebanese fighters’s success against Israel, I cannot blame McConnell. He’s gotta tough job to do.

But I sense that we are at an historically significant crossroad, as if there’s another curtain about to fall, although I’m not sure whose.

There’s still a lot of room under the Embargo for the Executive put up barriers against all things Cuban (let alone aggressively enforce the ones that are articulated).

For things to get worse for everybody, all we’d need to see is a few black & white surveillance photographs of Hezbullah in Havana.

On the other hand, for the things to get better, this moment would be a good time for the U.S. to throw a face-saving gesture at the Cuban Government, one such as declaring the Embargo a total failure (not exactly a stretch) and therefore repealing it, which in turn could empower the Cuban people and set their imaginations in motion.

It’s worth the risk, unless of course you’re okay with a Hezbullah terrorist with a Cuban passport heading to the US in a go-boat.

From Congressional Quarterly :


Admiral McConnell, go ahead.


Sir, Senator Warner was secretary of the Navy when I was briefing him as a young lieutenant. So thank you, sir.

Mr. Chairman, Senator Collins and members of the committee, thank you very much for the opportunity to appear before the committee and provide a status of our efforts to confront terrorism to the nation.

I also appreciate the opportunity to describe the implementation of the reforms mandated by the Congress and the president since 9/11 and, as has been mentioned, six years ago tomorrow.

My biggest concern, as mentioned by Senator Collins, is going back to September 10th thinking by many in our country. As stated in our July national intelligence estimate, the level of focus and commitment may wane in time. The threat is real and we must remain vigilant.

As noted in July, my office released the national intelligence estimate, the intelligence community's most authoritative judgment on a particular subject, and this was the terrorist threat to the United States homeland.

And our key judgments, an unclassed version of which has been mentioned here and is posted on our Web site, for the period of the three-year period of the estimate, we assess that our nation faces and will continue to face a persistent and evolving threat mainly from Islamic terrorist groups and cells, and most especially Al Qaida.

The terrorist threat without question is real. I will share with you today, how we in the intelligence community are working to counter these threats. I also have submitted a more comprehensive overview in my statement for the record and I ask that it be submitted to the record.


Without objection.


To confront today's threats, we have made many changes in the way we conduct intelligence, law enforcement, homeland security, diplomatic and defensive activities.

Our greatest progress can be concentrated, I believe, in four areas: first, by improving our organizational structures to meet the new threats of this century; next, by fostering greater information sharing to provide the right information to the right people at the right time, largely driven by this committee; strengthening our intelligence analysis; and fourth, implementing the necessary reforms that allow us to build a dynamic intelligence enterprise that promotes diversity to gain insight and to sustain a competitive advantage against those we are seeing as adversaries.

First, let me touch on the structural improvements in the intelligence community.

One of our challenges was integrating foreign and domestic intelligence -- that is foreign intelligence collected inside the United States. We are ensuring that we collect the right information to most accurately and objectively reflect the threat inside the U.S. We are better able to do this with the establishment of the FBI's National Security Branch, NSB.

The NSB integrates the FBI's counterterrorism, counterintelligence, weapons of mass destruction and intelligence programs, allowing for a coordinated focus on collecting foreign intelligence within the United States.


And, of course, as mentioned, the NCTC, the National Counterterrorism Center, uses all that information with foreign- collected information to provide a more comprehensive picture.

Second, with regard to our structure, creation of the National Clandestine Service at CIA to guide all clandestine human operations across the community with the most effective leadership allows for better oversight and coordination we did not have before.

Thirdly, we are working to dismantle stovepipes -- the stovepipe mentality inside the intelligence community. This mindset is where an agency can produce and limit within its walls vital national intelligence.

One way we promote greater collaboration is by using cross- community mission managers to identify intelligence priorities, gaps and requirements. Mission managers engage in strategic planning and collection management against our hardest targets. Today, we have mission managers for North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, counterterrorism, counterproliferation and counterintelligence.

Finally, with the support of this committee, we have established the program manager for information-sharing environment to enhance our sharing of terrorism information not only among federal, but also among state, local, tribal governments as well as the private sector.

Let me turn now more specifically to information-sharing.

Our efforts to improve information-sharing mechanisms are of special significance, given that the failure to do so contributed to our inability or our failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks.

In our July national intelligence estimate, we assess that Al Qaida is planning to attack the homeland, is likely to continue to focus on prominent political, economic and infrastructure targets with the goal of producing mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction and significant economic shocks.


And, of course, as mentioned by the chairman, the intent is to create fear among our population.

To counter this, we must depend not only on the 16 agencies of the intelligence community, but also on the eyes and ears of our state and local partners across the country. And more than depending on them, we must be willing to share threat information and work with them to protect our nation.

We believe that state and local partners can no longer be treated only as first responders, but also as the first lines of prevention. In the past six years, the program manager for information-sharing has led the charge to transform our policies, processes, procedures and, most importantly, workforce -- or workplace cultures to reinforce sharing terrorist information as the rule, not the exception.

I have also made improved information-sharing a centerpiece of the DNI's strategic plan in going forward.

Although of the effort to implement the information-sharing environment is well under way, it is essential that the implementation activities take place within a broader strategic context of enhancing our nation's ability to combat terrorism.

The ultimate goal is not simply information-sharing for the sake of sharing, The objective is to improve our national capacity to protect our nation from future attack. We are working very hard to do just that.

Let me now turn to analysis.