An Updated Intelligence Review from the DNI

08.06.09 | 3 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

“Implementation of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI),” the notoriously secretive program “which was established by President Bush in National Security Presidential Directive 54/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 23 in January 2008, continues at this time.”

That interesting reminder was mentioned in passing in newly disclosed answers to questions for the record (pdf) submitted by the Director of National Intelligence to the Senate Intelligence Committee in April 2009 following the DNI’s annual threat briefing last February.

Some other notable observations from the DNI’s forty pages of wide-ranging answers to Senators’ questions include:

  • “Iran is covertly supplying arms to Afghan insurgents while publicly posing as supportive of the Afghan government.”  “Iran’s policy calculation in Afghanistan currently emphasizes lethal support to the Taliban, even though revelation of this activity could threaten its future relationship with the Afghan government and its historic allies within Afghanistan.”
  • Based on counterinsurgency principles, the DNI said, it would require “roughly 818,000 security personnel to secure Afghanistan” including 325,000 personnel to secure the Pashtun areas where most insurgents are located.  But there are currently only 83,094 soldiers in the Afghan National Army.  To grow to 325,000 soldiers would require $946 million annually, well above the FY2008 Afghan defense budget of $242 million.
  • While Iran has made significant progress in uranium enrichment technology, the State Department’s intelligence bureau (INR) “continues to assess it is unlikely that Iran will have the technical capability to produce HEU [highly enriched uranium] before 2013.  INR shares the Intelligence Community’s assessment that Iran probably would use military-run covert facilities, rather than declared nuclear sites, to produce HEU. Outfitting a covert enrichment infrastructure could take years.”
  • “Some analysts believe that Iraq is more fragile, the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] less capable, and the impact of a drawdown [of U.S. forces] more destabilizing than the majority of the Intelligence Community.”
  • “Hizballah remains the most technically capable terrorist group in the world.”  But “Al Qa’ida is the terrorist group that historically has sought the broadest range of CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear] attack capabilities, and we assess that it would use any CBRN capability it acquires in an anti-U.S. attack, preferably against the Homeland.”
  • In March 2009, the Central Intelligence Agency created a new daily intelligence publication called the Economic Intelligence Brief (EIB), which is “the most visible step we have taken to increase reporting and analysis” on the global economic crisis and its impact on U.S. national security.
  • “Moscow has been in the process of restoring some of the military capabilities it lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union as it downsizes and reorganizes its forces.” “Despite its still considerable capabilities, the Russian military is a shadow of its Soviet predecessor.” “Russia has consistently kept its defense spending at less than three percent of GDP, avoiding the huge defense burden that ultimately choked the Soviet economy.”

    Some of the DNI’s statements are surprisingly flimsy.  For example, he declares (question 17) that “In 2003, the Russian military prepared for an exercise that included attacking U.S. satellites to disrupt the NAVSTAR global positioning system, the Keyhole optical-electronic reconnaissance satellites, and the Lacrosse radar reconnaissance system with the intent of ‘blinding’ the Pentagon and denying it the opportunity to use precision weapons against Russia.”

    This is an odd assertion, first, because intelligence officials rarely if ever use the old Keyhole or Lacrosse satellite names in unclassified public statements.  And on closer inspection, it turns out that the DNI’s statement was simply lifted, almost word for word, from a news story that appeared in the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta on May 14, 2003.  (It was also picked up by the online Newsmax.com on May 18, 2003.)  The Russian story lazily attributed its claim regarding the anti-satellite exercise to “certain reports.” The DNI repeated the Nezavisimaya Gazeta item nearly verbatim, presenting it as an established fact, with no attribution at all.

    The Senate Intelligence Committee has renewed the valuable tradition of submitting unclassified questions for the record to senior intelligence officials following the annual threat briefing to the Committee.  Unfortunately, the congressional publication schedule is such that the answers to the questions often do not appear for one or even two years after they are prepared.  The latest DNI responses to questions for the record, transmitted in April, were obtained by the Federation of American Scientists this week through the Freedom of Information Act.