Best Defense

The Flynn report (III): A spy generation gap?

There seems to be a generation gap in the intel community, judging by the sharply different reactions of younger and older spooks to the controversial new CNAS report on how to change intelligence in Afghanistan, written by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn and a couple of members of his entourage. The young folks (battalion S-2s and ...

x-ray delta one/flickr
x-ray delta one/flickr

There seems to be a generation gap in the intel community, judging by the sharply different reactions of younger and older spooks to the controversial new CNAS report on how to change intelligence in Afghanistan, written by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn and a couple of members of his entourage. The young folks (battalion S-2s and below) seem to be saying they like the assessment and don’t mind the venue. The old folks (especially back here in the DC area) dislike the assessment and are appalled at the fact that Maj. Gen. Flynn released the report through a think tank.

Here, for example, is part of John McCreary’s blast from yesterday’s NightWatch:

The authors also seem to confuse strategy, policy and tactics. There is no blurring of lines about the use of information.  Information has always had different uses at different levels of command. It troubling that some might think it is new, just because they had an epiphany.

Much of what is discussed is a rediscovery of what have been the basics of military intelligence for more than 60 years, albeit badly neglected in the past two decades. DIA once excelled at this work, for example. Claims about new ways of doing business that are in fact reinventions of old wheels are churlish and show a lack of historic grounding.

The report contains few new insights about the nature and needs of military intelligence in support of fighting an insurgency. Its attempt to distinguish conventional war is artificial and uninformed. This is old lore that some entities discarded and have forgotten. Nevertheless, new or old, the intelligence work has not been done, should have been done and needs to be done.

Intelligence has lost its way when it cannot support troops in combat. There is plenty of blame to go around. The key question is whether Flynn’s blueprint addresses the systemic, cognitive problems. The answer, lamentably, is no, it does not.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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