Along with al Qaeda, nuclear proliferation and cyber threats, budget instability and the prospect of further deep spending cuts are among the nation’s most pressing national security challenges, top defense intelligence officials told a congressional panel Feb. 27.
Michael G. Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn testified during the unclassified part of a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee.
Elements of the intelligence community that are part of DOD include DIA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, Vickers said. Nearly 60,000 civilians and 123,000 service members support DOD’s national and military intelligence missions at home and alongside combat forces worldwide.
Defense intelligence partners include counterparts in the broader intelligence community, he noted, including the director of national intelligence, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and many other elements.
President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget request seeks $19.2 billion for the military intelligence program, the undersecretary said, which funds intelligence, counterintelligence and intelligence-related programs, projects and activities that provide capabilities to meet warfighter operational and tactical requirements.
Vickers reviewed the top intelligence challenges for the Defense Department and the nation:
- Transitioning the mission in Afghanistan to Afghan leadership;
- Preparing for increased instability during the Arab world’s historic transition;
- Preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
- Ensuring continued U.S. access to the global commons and critical regions such as East Asia; and
- Continuing to provide decisive intelligence to policymakers, operators and war fighters.
“Finally,” Vickers added, “we must ensure the continued economic leadership of the United States. This is the foundation upon which our long-term national security rests. At the same time as our intelligence and defense budgets are declining, the challenges … are increasing and becoming more complex.”
He described intelligence as a major source of U.S. advantage that “informs wise policy and enables precision operations. It is our front line of defense.” To maintain and bolster that front line, Vickers added, requires critical investment in a range of capabilities.
The war against al-Qaida and instability in the Middle East and North Africa make it necessary for DOD to continue enhancing its counterterrorism capabilities, he said.
“Our national security strategy in Asia will require significantly different investments over the next 15 years … to obtain the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities most appropriate to the unique challenges of ensuring access in the Pacific,” the undersecretary said.
Countering cyber threats and nuclear proliferation calls for new resources and new ways of operating, he added.
The department is improving its human intelligence capabilities by establishing the Defense Clandestine Service, he said, and critical intelligence capabilities like overhead and cryptologic architectures continue to need modernization and recapitalization.
“Budgetary instability and the prospect of further deep cuts,” Vickers said, “put these investments at risk.”
When Flynn addressed the panel, he noted that the nation is at a moment of transition and that the global security environment presents increasingly complex challenges and a growing list of threats and adversaries.
“Demands on the U.S. intelligence system have skyrocketed in recent years, and these demands are only expected to increase,” the general said. Noting that the DIA puts its people first, he added that sequestration — the deep and sudden budget cuts scheduled to begin tomorrow — will negatively affect the agency’s more than 16,000 employees in 262 locations worldwide, including 142 countries and 31 states.
“We cannot accomplish our mission without the men and women who serve this nation so well,” Flynn said. “The impact sequestration will have on an organization that depends on human resources for its capability is astoundingly complex and far-reaching.”
The director characterized a geometric impact that includes the cost of lost opportunity and the cost of rebuilding capability the agency stands to lose.
“What we cannot predict is the real impact on national security of that lost capability,” Flynn added.
“If we think that our adversaries will use this time to take a strategic pause, or that we will somehow manage to stay ahead of the most potentially catastrophic intelligence issues while opting to take cuts against the low threat areas, then we are deluding ourselves,” he observed.
“The real cost of this action is in public insecurity and potential strategic surprise,” the director said.
At best, Flynn added, “we may never know what key intelligence we have missed as a result of sequestration. At worst, I fear we may find ourselves rehashing another major intelligence failure.”