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Intelligence : Between
Policy Success and Intelligence Failure
Remarks for CIA Director John O.
Brennan as Prepared for Delivery at the Conference on the Ethos and
Profession of Intelligence, George Washington University, Washington DC, October
Source : CIA.
Good morning everyone and welcome. Thank you for being part
of what promises to be a day of lively, enlightening discussions on the ethos
and profession of intelligence.
Speaking for all of us at CIA, we deeply appreciate the
partnership of George Washington University in putting together this conference.
GW has long been a powerhouse in the field of national security studies, and we
are very fortunate to have members of its outstanding faculty and student body
participating in today’s events.
I want to thank President Steven Knapp and everyone at GW for
hosting us, with special thanks to Trustee Emeritus BJ Penn, Trustee Rick Knop,
and of course Associate Vice President Frank Cilluffo and his team at GW’s
Center for Cyber and Homeland Security.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the distinguished panelists
and moderators who will be taking part in our discussions. Thank you all for
taking time out of your busy schedules to share your wisdom and insights with us
CIA began this annual conference series last year with an
event at Georgetown University. We did it because, like any other part of the US
Government, the Agency and our Intelligence Community partners must have the
trust and confidence of the citizens we serve in order to carry out our mission.
Earning that trust requires that we get out and explain our
work, articulate our values, and lay out our fundamental motives and objectives.
And the fact is, there are many aspects of our profession beyond the clandestine
sphere that lend themselves to public discourse.
So in addition to providing an opportunity to engage with the
people we serve, this conference provides a forum from which we can benefit from
outside views and gain a better perspective on the issues we confront.
Each panel on today’s program will shed light on a major
challenge facing our Agency and the broader Intelligence Community. These are
subjects that CIA’s leadership team deals with every day. How we approach these
challenges will determine the Agency’s success in keeping our Nation and allies
safe and in advancing our shared interests throughout the world.
The first panel, moderated by Gwen Ifill, will cover the
unprecedented array of global threats we face today and are likely to face in
the future. From traditional geopolitical rivalries and nationalism to the
scourge of terrorism to an entire new domain for conflict, the cyber realm,
America’s intelligence officers have never confronted a wider variety of
potential dangers to national security.
The complexity of these challenges is compounded by the fact
that crises can arise instantly in the age of social media—the so-called Arab
Spring being a prime example. And along with the benefits that rapidly advancing
technology brings to the world, it also empowers individuals and groups to
commit acts of sabotage and disruption that, previously, only states could
These threats raise fundamental questions for those of us in
the Intelligence Community: How might our people, equipment, and funding be
optimally deployed to address these challenges? What should be our collection
priorities? Where are the trends heading, and what are likely to be our Nation’s
primary foreign threats in the next ten or twenty years?
These are all key questions, and I look forward to joining
Next, we will take a look at the Intelligence Community’s
strategic warning function, our first and foremost responsibility. Intelligence
officers are far from omniscient—and I’m sure the reporters out there will
readily agree—but we accept the fact that omniscience is often the standard by
which we are judged when it comes to preventing surprises for policymakers.
My good friend Jim Clapper has often joked that,
for any national security issue, there are only two
possibilities: policy success or intelligence failure. No other outcome
Clearly, our duty as intelligence professionals is to look
beyond the next horizon—not only to highlight key events around the globe, but
to give policymakers a good idea of the factors that are likely to shape future
developments. Almost every aspect of national security policy, from military
action to diplomacy to international law enforcement, depends on timely,
accurate, and insightful intelligence.
Today we will have senior intelligence officers and
policymakers offer their views on strategic warning—the historical record, its
current role in the policy process, and what it can realistically achieve. My
friend and colleague David Cohen, who became CIA’s Deputy Director after serving
as a senior policymaker at Treasury, will be the moderator for this panel, and
he has an excellent perspective on the issue.
Our third panel, moderated by Kenneth Wainstein, will address
the need to bridge 20th Century law and 21st Century intelligence. Just as
intelligence tradecraft must keep pace with technology if we in the Intelligence
Community are to meet our global mission, so too must the laws that govern how
we carry out our work.
For example, Congress over the past few years has tried,
without success, to pass laws addressing the need for comprehensive cyber policy,
especially on information sharing between the public and private sectors. Such
an approach is essential if our Nation is to better defend itself against
foreign cyber threats.
In the absence of legislation, President Obama in 2013 issued
Executive Order 13636, which included much-needed provisions on the protection
of critical infrastructure as well as on information sharing and standards
development. But we still have a long way to go before we have a truly effective
and unified national response to the cyber threat.
As Congress and the courts deal with this issue, we must
always bear in mind that security and privacy are not mutually exclusive. The
benefits of enhanced information sharing can be achieved in a way that fully
respects and protects civil liberties.
Our fourth panel, moderated by Mike Vickers, addresses a
challenge that will be absolutely vital to our future: How to provide our
officers with the tools, skills, and expertise to carry out their jobs in an
increasingly complex and volatile world.
For the Intelligence Community, the digital revolution has
opened up a whole new world of possibilities, with consequences that stretch
across every aspect of our mission. New technologies give us the capability to
collect more data than ever before. And cutting-edge tools allow us to process
and analyze it quickly and thoroughly, spotting trends that the human brain
could never detect on its own.
But there are tradeoffs in this interconnected world. Just as
terrorists leave trails of digital dust that our government can track, our
officers leave behind digital footprints of their own, making it more difficult
for them to operate clandestinely.
So as important as it is for us to acquire the most advanced
technologies, equally important is developing a workforce with the technical
savvy to manage both the promise and the peril of the digital domain.
That means recruiting aggressively among the millennial
generation. It means providing world-class technical training to our workforce.
It means partnering with the private sector to help us spur innovation. And it
means giving our officers the career opportunities they need to acquire new
skills, to build their professional acumen, and to develop as leaders.
At the end of the day, the Intelligence Community’s greatest
strength is and will always be its people. They are the foundation of everything
we achieve as a Community. Indeed, our success in the coming years will be
determined to a large degree by how well we train and equip the tremendous
talent within our workforce.
Our final panel today will be moderated by David Ignatius and
will focus on the role of international partnerships in advancing our
intelligence mission. These partnerships are often underappreciated by outside
observers, but they are crucial to our national security and to countering
I devote a great deal of my time as CIA Director to
developing strong relationships with my counterparts around the globe. From the
largest services with global missions to those of smaller nations focused more
on local and regional issues, CIA has developed a range of working relationships
with intelligence and security services overseas.
By collaborating with foreign partners, we are in a better
position to close key intelligence gaps, to prevent strategic surprise, and to
fulfill our mandate as an intelligence service with truly global reach. There is
no way we could be successful in carrying out a mission of such scope and
complexity on our own.
On innumerable challenges, our cooperation with foreign
liaison has quietly achieved significant results. Working together, we have
foiled terrorist attacks, intercepted transfers of dangerous weapons and
technology, brought international criminals to justice, and shared vital
intelligence and expertise on everything from the use of chemical armaments in
Syria to the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine.
These relationships are an essential adjunct to diplomacy. By
working with our foreign partners, we enhance global security by helping them
tackle challenges that threaten us all.
Before we begin our panel discussions, I want to say a few
words about what CIA is doing to prepare for the challenges of the 21st century.
For as interesting as these challenges are to discuss, what ultimately matters
is the steps we are taking to address them. And I am proud to say that at CIA,
we are already putting many of the ideas you will hear about today into action.
As many of you know, nearly eight months ago we launched our
Agency Modernization Program. It is essentially CIA’s blueprint for the future.
It draws on best practices from across the Intelligence Community and from the
private sector, on issues ranging from how we develop our workforce to how we
integrate our capabilities and expertise.
Our plan is driven by two fundamental shifts in the national
security landscape that I alluded to earlier:
The first is an increase in the range and complexity of the
challenges confronting our Nation’s policymakers.
The second is the technological advances that are transforming the world in
which we live and operate.
Our Modernization Program is designed to give us the
capability and the agility to thrive in this new age. On October 1st, we
achieved a key milestone in our program with the establishment our new
Directorate of Digital Innovation—our first new Directorate since the 1960s—which
will accelerate the integration of our digital and cyber capabilities across all
our mission areas, while infusing those capabilities throughout the Agency.
On the same day, we also stood up our ten Mission Centers:
six focused on regions, like Africa and the Near East, and four focused on
functional issues, such as counterterrorism and counterintelligence. These
centers exemplify the integrated way that CIA will work in the future.
In the months and years to come, these changes—combined with
the other elements of our Modernization Program—will help CIA harness all our
strengths so we can better address the full spectrum of national security
threats. They will make our relationships with our IC partners and our
counterparts overseas more streamlined and more effective. And they will enable
the Agency to do an even better job of operating in the multidisciplinary and
ever-more technical environments that come with our mission today—and that will
be even more prevalent tomorrow.
Let me conclude by saying that without a doubt I have the
absolute best job in the world. Not only do I get to work on the most
challenging and consequential issues of our time; I also get to work with the
most talented, dedicated, innovative, selfless, courageous, and hard working
women and men this Nation has to offer. It is a great honor and privilege to
serve as Director of the CIA, and it is a great pleasure to cohost this
conference with George Washington University.
With that, I will turn it over to Frank Cilluffo of the
Center for Cyber and Homeland Security here at GW, who will be our host
throughout today’s conference.
Related Topic :
Challenges of Ungoverned Spaces" by John O. Brennan (13-07-2016).
Overarching Challenge of Instability" by John O. Brennan (29-06-2016).
IS a Formidable, Resilient, and Largely Cohesive Enemy" by John O. Brennan
Between Transparency and Secrecy" " by David S. Cohen (21-04-2016).
Has Become a Hallmark of Our Time" by John O. Brennan (03-03-2016).
Intelligence Is the Cornerstone of National Security Policy" by John O.
The OSS Legacy" by John O. Brennan (07-11-2015).
Challenging and Consequential Issues of Our Time" by John O. Brennan
: Between Policy Success and Intelligence Failure" by John O. Brennan
CIA of the Future" by David S. Cohen (15-09-2015).
Does Not Keep Secrets Merely for Secrecy’s Sake" by John O. Brennan
Intelligence in a Transforming World"
by John O. Brennan (13-03-2015).