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Sept. 12, 2013

Lt. Gen. Flynn INSA IC Summit Remarks

Thank you, Ambassador DeTrani for your kind introduction. First, let me thank Chuck Alsup for the gracious invitation to speak today and congratulate the extraordinary team at INSA for consistently bringing together these important events and leading our nation's most important conversations. It's an honor to be asked to participate.

You've had a full day of discussions on issues ranging from the evolving insider threat – to cyber as an intelligence discipline, to the IC's relationship with local and state level governments, all the way to updating the ever challenging security clearance process. You've heard from Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Ruppersberger about the Hill perspective on the state of our national defense and the role of the Intelligence Community, and you had the opportunity to ask DNI Clapper about the impressive advances we've made in intelligence information sharing, integration, and shared information technology.

It's been a very full and interesting day, and following that group is definitely a tough act – so I’m going to do my best to keep it just as engaging during this last session.

There has been one major national security issue on the top of everyone's mind for the past few weeks, and that's Syria.

Right now, we – the United States and the national security enterprise – are facing major and difficult crossroads when it comes to the crisis in Syria, and there, quite frankly, is no easy path to choose.

Just as we are winding down from more than a decade of military engagements in Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa – from Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Libya – we are in a situation where we must contemplate intervention in a complicated crisis that has been festering for more than two years.

The facts are clear: A loose, but fairly trained federation of roughly 1,200 rebel groups have been continuously fighting to take down the Assad regime since 2011.

While the majority of the rebel groups are moderate, several radical Islamist factions have surfaced like the al Qaeda-aligned al-Nusra Front, and these Islamists tend to be better led, better organized, better armed, and better trained than the other groups.

These are the type of separatists that would encourage renewed regional instability should they gain traction in a fractured population.

Over the past two years, the Assad regime has, in many cases, savagely responded to rebel actions since they first began as demonstrations and protests, and the two sides have traded the upper hand throughout the conflict. By recent confirmed accounts, the regime has used chemical weapons on more than one occasion to gas thousands of his people in his desire to retain power at any cost.

Additionally, over the last year, both the United States and the international community have stated that the use of these chemical weapons cannot go unpunished.

So now, with confirmed sarin gas attacks, we are at a crossroads where we must choose between intervention and detachment – between striking the Assad regime in retribution for their widely-condemned use of chemical weapons and upholding our stated commitment to human rights on the one hand, and keeping our interests – not to mention financial resources – disentangled from another extremely complicated Middle Eastern crisis.

A “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” dilemma.

Deciding between intervention and detachment in Syria is an extremely difficult choice, made even harder as details of Assad's atrocities against his own people continue to pour in and Russia enters the conversation with an encouraging, but questionable alternative.

I do not envy the policymakers who must make the ultimate decision. Their predicament reminds me of the old Yogi Berra quote: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” If only it were that easy! But what does Yogi know? – he was a New York Yankee.

In my judgment as a senior member of the IC and as a national security leader, what is really fascinating about this crossroads – and other issues just like it that suddenly force us to consider our role and responsibility in the international arena – is that, they're simply not that rare anymore.

In the past, these major challenges would pop up once or twice during a presidential administration (maybe); today, the U.S. seems to confront a new major national security issue on a frequent and seemingly endless basis. Which begs the question: Is crisis our new normal?

Whether it's determining our support to the allied campaign in Libya, debating our relationship with Egypt after continuing shifts in power, or deciding our role in Afghanistan after U.S. troop withdrawal – we are constantly facing a wide and broad range of major security decisions, the dynamics of which are constantly shifting, and the effects of which will be felt for years and decades to come.

I am not the first nor the last to point out the unprecedented range of threats facing the U.S., but the overlooked lesson from the advent of the Syria crisis on U.S consciousness is just how quickly an issue can become a front-page, above the fold U.S. national security priority today from the back pages of current events.

This crisis perfectly demonstrates how rapidly a challenge from the endless list of threats can bubble up to the surface and completely change our nation's course and commitment of resources.

What this staggering rate of change and this highly unpredictable security environment loudly and clearly says to me is that intelligence is a major – if not the most – critical enabler and guarantor of our national security.

Intelligence is the only weapon in our arsenal that has the responsibility and capability of anticipating and understanding the precursors of instability and political, social, and economic unrest around the world.

It is the single most powerful capability we have to influence the best course of action, or at a minimum, the least damaging way forward in these situations.

We are an extremely valuable asset to the national security enterprise, and one whose demand signal is skyrocketing, while available resources for the foreseeable future will only be further constrained.

I want to underscore the word “value” very specifically here, especially as we continue to assess our mission and worth through the lens of our country's present fiscal strains and sequestration.

Getting America's fiscal house in order is and should be a major priority for the U.S. government, and I think I speak for all of my colleagues in the IC when I say that we are committed to being vigilant and responsible stewards of the taxpayer's dollars.

Right now, though, we are strongly concentrating on maintaining the valuable and irreplaceable asset of intelligence and making sure we are managing sequestration so that we can maintain the strength and success of the community, absorb risk where we can, and invest for our future – the right training, regions, and issues where the next crossroads will pop up.

Investing with an eye firmly fixed on the future is key – because if we think the environment is difficult now, I guarantee you it is not going to get any easier in the decades ahead. That’s a promise.

I know earlier today there was a Global Trends breakout session, so I won't rehash the same discussion – but projected demographic, migratory, technological, and economic changes that we foresee over the next 50 years will undoubtedly tax our future national security enterprise. For instance, aging first world populations, widening gender gaps in developing countries, and a growing pocket of young, underemployed males in third-world and largely economically struggling regions will change the military face of many of our allies and enemies. Regional disputes over critical natural resources that are quickly dwindling in supply, especially water, energy, and rare earth elements and minerals, will threaten already tenuous political and social balances – immediately, the delicate balance between nuclear Pakistan and India comes to mind.

Also, the rapid advancement in technology for destructive or disruptive purposes will challenge us to not only keep up with the pace of change, but stay one step ahead and secure our systems that increasingly rely on technology to exist.

The expectations for technological advancement brings me to the one issue that I can see bubbling up on the horizon right now, and that issue is responding to the tactical use of cyber attacks for strategic purposes.

Now we are all aware of the cyber threat – you spent a significant part of this afternoon talking about its various forms, from rogue hackers to insider threats to state-sponsored actors – and in May, appropriately at Pearl Harbor, Secretary Hagel said in no uncertain terms that the devastatingly destructive potential of cyber attacks has become the security challenge of our age.

We are also fully aware of our vulnerabilities. We understand that our nation's infrastructure remains largely unprotected, that U.S. private companies do not have the resources or imperative to guard against increasingly sophisticated cyber encroachment. We understand that almost everything in our society has a cyber element in it – from the cell phones we carry, a pacemaker in someone’s chest, the computer we use every day, the elevators we ride, all the way to the targeting software our military uses to precision guide our missiles to their targets.

It's a scary reality, and we are all aware of the danger as information technology marches on in exponential advancement.

Information technology is one of our most important military enablers. It provides us with unparalleled precision and battlespace awareness that allows our military forces the flexibility to act across the operational spectrum.

While we grow ever more worried about the threats to infrastructure and our increasingly wired society, DIA is increasingly focused on the threats that can degrade our military capabilities. Militarized cyber weapons are a new world. One where we need to understand doctrine and intent of our cyber foes in order to best manage the risk they pose.

DIA has been the all-source leader on enemy doctrine and discipline, order of battle research, and offensive capabilities for more than 50 years and is working hard with our IC partners to understand this security challenge of our age.

So what do these many major national security challenges mean for the IC? What do tomorrow's trends mean for our defense? From my viewpoint – in light of this shifting, dangerous environment where Syria can become a top priority and the ever-present danger of cyber can simmer in the background, in light of the mandate to get our fiscal house in order, in light of the various future trends that will continue to complicate matters, and in light of the absolutely critical role of intelligence in our national security –

We must do the following:

  • Adjust our operating model to refocus on our mission and unique strengths,
  • Continually emphasize burden sharing and integration, and,
  • Instill flexibility and agility to respond to crisis

All of this woven into the fabric and culture of who we are and of everything we do.

At DIA we have already laid the groundwork for that future. We have reorganized into a Centers-based model that networks and integrates talent from across the agency – whether that talent resides in an analyst, collector, collection manager, technical expert, or targeteer – and brings them together as one team to solve the critical problems we face. That is a critical personal lesson I learned from the past decade of war. At the core of these centers are three qualities:

  • first, a tight fusion between analysis and collection, which we know based on our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan is the most successful model for timely and responsive intelligence production and support;
  • second, flexibility, as the team members no longer have to contend with organizational boundaries that kept them apart;
  • and lastly, integration, as each Center has several interagency imbeds from across the IC and a tight relationship with our Combatant Commands and Service Intelligence Centers.

Right now our Middle East/Africa Regional Center, in close coordination with CENTCOM, the Joint Staff, OSD, the ODNI and the WH is handling our assessments of the Syria crisis, and I have the utmost faith that they have the right talent, tools, and resources to get their job done.

We have also pushed more of our intelligence professionals – both collectors and analysts – into the field in order to “thicken the edges,” ensuring that they, and the agency as a whole, have an appreciation and working understanding of developments across the globe.

My constant drumbeat is to make the edge the center. The unique perspective of these officers in the field have often made the crucial difference in our support to policymakers during the AQ threats in Yemen, operations in Mali, instability in Egypt, and growing unrest in Syria. In fact, just last week, feedback from one of our intelligence officers in country went directly to the SECDEF in advance of his talks to allies about instability in the Middle East.

As the U.S. finds itself with new national security crossroads to navigate, DIA is focused on being in the right place at the right time.

We are also leveraging technology, where appropriate, to give us a competitive edge against our enemies. I know DNI Clapper has already talked to you about ICITE today, and you had a breakout session on the topic earlier, so I'll try not to be repetitive – but I simply want to underscore how groundbreaking the project is for the Intelligence Community. This integrated IT concept connecting everyone in the community under a common IT umbrella is breaking down both cultural and technological barriers between agencies.

This is securely allowing the community's professionals to share and customize the latest web tools and applications — a truly revolutionary concept for the IC – and one we sorely need for our uncertain future.

I sincerely believe that ICITE is the single most important project underway in the IC, and I'll go one step further and say that ICITE will be a key pillar that supports the community's continued success and, frankly, its relevance to decision-makers.

Together with the DNI and NGA, I'm proud to say that DIA has led an ICITE launch team that just recently met a major milestone, giving access to the groundbreaking new system to thousands of community analysts. I expect great things.

In conclusion, I should highlight that – in all of these efforts at DIA – my main focus has been ruthlessly deconflicting and prioritizing efficiency while emphasizing sound business practices at all levels. My purpose is to make our operational forces more effective.

Right now we are conducting DIA's first-ever full audit of the agency's capabilities, and I have launched a special Task Force that is laser-focused on examining and analyzing DIA's reliance on contracting to make sure we are spending our money as wisely as possible. I take the mandate to cut waste very seriously, and I also want to make sure we are putting our money into the right places where our attention will have to be focused on the various crossroads, and ultimately, strategic turns that we will have to negotiate in the future.

I want to ensure that we are prepared for the next Syria, and the one after that.

Thanks for listening to me and I hope I added some value to what I know was a great day for INSA.