Trump Homeland Security Advisor: Do We Really Need a Russia Desk?
Tom Bossert wants spies to team up to focus on cybersecurity and other functional topics.
President Donald Trump’s homeland security and counterterrorism advisor, Tom Bossert, advocated turning away from the intelligence community’s traditional “Russia and China desks” in favor of focusing on specific threats, like cybersecurity and counterterrorism.
The intelligence community should “determine ways to better mission integrate by function as opposed to mission integrate by geography,” Bossert said at conference Wednesday morning in Washington.
“That’s a world we’ve lived in since World War II,” he said during a moderated discussion onstage at the annual Intelligence and National Security Summit.
The government’s intelligence sharing has been better since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bossert said, but there’s an opportunity to focus more on specific threats with the combined resources of different intelligence agencies. “That needs some improvement,” he said.
As an example, Bossert suggested that the Department of Homeland Security focus more specifically on “transnational crime and drug-related crime,” instead of investigating those types of events individually. “We can better prioritize across subcomponents at DHS,” he said. “There’s intelligence funneled into each of those efforts, but it can’t be diffuse to the point where there’s no prioritization.”
Traditionally, the intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA, have been organized around regions, groups, and nations. Sometimes they are shuffled and renamed as new administrations come and go, but they usually remain similar in concept and focus.
Out of the CIA’s 11 mission centers, seven of them are focused on regions: Europe and Eurasia, which encompasses Russia; East Asia and the Pacific; Africa; South and Central Asia; the Near East; the Western Hemisphere; and the brand-new Korea center. The last one, recently announced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, is supposed to zero in on North Korea.
The remaining mission centers are devoted to counterintelligence, counterterrorism, “global issues,” and weapons and counterproliferation. Additionally, the CIA maintains different technical centers, the clandestine service, and the office of science and technology.
For CIA and traditional intelligence professionals, ditching the focus on specific countries and regions would be a radical departure. And such a reform, which would in theory eliminate or downplay Russia-focused desks, would likely stir controversy for an administration already facing an investigation into Kremlin-ordered interference.
“It makes no sense at all,” wrote one former CIA official to Foreign Policy in a message. “It shows a real lack of understanding on how the policy making process works, actually.”
The suggestion doesn’t reflect how the intelligence community functions or is tasked, according to the former official.
“The daily questions from policy makers are things like, what are Putin’s political calculations on X? How can we get France to commit more troops to X operations? How is the Jordanian military modernizing to combat terrorism?” the former official wrote. “For the more technical questions at a global scale, that’s why we have the technical centers.… [E]very issue is a transnational one.”
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