One of the most disruptive men in the sprawling U.S. spy community, someone who turned the military’s elite killers into top spies, will likely soon be in charge of all military intelligence.
The Pentagon on Tuesday nominated Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to be the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the U.S.’ central military-intel hive. That might not go over so well with many responsible for battlefield intelligence. The first time most people outside of the shadows heard of Flynn, he was loudly complaining that military intelligence in Afghanistan sucked.
“Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy,” Flynn wrote in January 2010 for the Center for a New American Security, an influential D.C. think tank. At the time, Flynn was head of intelligence for the war command in Afghanistan. His remedy: Stop looking so much at the Taliban, since its presence and activities were lagging indicators of the war’s fates; understand instead the “pivotal Afghan districts” that would determine the war’s outcome — which, he also reported internally, did not look promising. To put it mildly, Army generals used to working behind the scenes do not usually issue such critiques at all, let alone in public.
That is, however, the kind of general Flynn seems to be. Long before he was moonlighting think-tank white papers, he helped transform the culture of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), getting its elite commandos to believe that collecting crucial clues from raids on terrorists was central to their missions. Although Flynn and his patron, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, left JSOC years before the attack on Osama bin Laden, the fact that the Navy SEALs left bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound with hundreds of thumb drives, cellphones and hard drives is part of their legacy.
All this disruption ended up professionally beneficial — a likely consequence of how highly the Defense Department esteems JSOC’s intelligence prowess. McChrystal’s successor in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, now the CIA director, kept Flynn on his team even as the rest of the McChrystal staff flamed out after a Rolling Stone expose. Flynn’s next job, which he retains, was to be a top deputy to the Director of National Intelligence, nominally the head of the 16-agency spy community.
The Defense Intelligence Agency is a powerful if obscure organization responsible for providing intelligence to military commands, the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Its secret weapon: It’s chiefly responsible for all of the Defense Department’s human informants. Yet it can seem overly bureaucratic and in eclipse compared to the military tactical-intelligence shops it helps man.
“Flynn’s nomination is interesting because he does not seem like someone who would choose to be a placeholder at an agency in decline,” says spywatcher Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. “The appointment may signal a revival of DIA, or at least some upheaval.”
It’s also yet another reminder that JSOC has had an overwhelming influence over the secretive intelligence world that fights the United States’ undeclared Shadow Wars. McChrystal, the man who revolutionized JSOC, may be gone. But his successor, Adm. William McRaven, is now the head of all U.S. special operations. His close friend Petraeus is now at the CIA. Another key ally, Michael Vickers, is the top civilian Pentagon official for intelligence.
Flynn is the latest to ascend, pending Senate approval. And he’s probably not done breaking the spy community’s furniture....
A US general who once blasted the work of military spies in Afghanistan as "only marginally relevant" has been nominated to take over the Pentagon's intelligence agency, officials said.
The decision to name Lieutenant General Michael Flynn suggests a possible shake-up of the sprawling Defense Intelligence Agency as the general has earned a reputation for pushing for dramatic change in his work with special forces.
Flynn was a scathing public critic of military intelligence in Afghanistan, where he served as a top intelligence officer in 2010, saying it failed to provide decision makers with a clear picture of conditions on the ground.
He chose to publish his critique through a Washington think tank, the Center for a New American Security, instead of sticking to customary channels within the Pentagon bureaucracy.
"Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the US intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy," his report said.
"Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which US and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade," it said.
Flynn is credited with playing an influential role during his tenure at Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the secretive headquarters that oversees elite commandos like the team that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
At JSOC, Flynn reportedly persuaded special forces to place a higher priority on scooping up intelligence while carrying out targeted attacks on militants.
His nomination reflects the ascendancy of special forces in policy making both within and outside the American military, a trend reinforced by the successful operation against Bin Laden.
Flynn, whose nomination must be approved by the Senate, currently serves as the assistant director of national intelligence for partner engagement at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence....