1304 words - March 15, 2013 | © DiploNews, all rights reserved.
"The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is an independent United States Government agency responsible for providing national security intelligence to senior policymakers."
The confirmation hearing of John O. Brennan, former Deputy National Security Advisor in the first Barack Obama administration, for the post of Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has brought much information about the role and duties of the CIA's chief and has provided with a fresh assessment of the ongoing threats to the United States' national security and to world stability. Succeeding General David Petraeus who resigned last November because of an extramarital affair, Mr. Brennan is a veteran who spent 25 years working at the CIA as a Near East and South Asia analyst, as station chief in Saudi Arabia, and as director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).
"The Director of the CIA is among the most critical national security positions in the United States Government, both because of the role the CIA plays in collecting and analyzing intelligence relevant to every national security challenge we face, and because of the added importance of having steady leadership at an organization that conducts most of its business outside of the public arena," Senator and Chairman of the United States Senate Select Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein said as she was opening the hearing on February 7.
Well aware that the context has been constantly changing since the Cold War mostly due to the emergence of non-state actors which represent a variety of threats, Mr. Brennan explained that while the CIA is part of the combat against terrorism, its core mission remains intelligence in the first place. "The CIA fulfilled its critical intelligence roles: collecting intelligence, uncovering secrets, identifying threats, partnering with foreign intelligence and security services, analyzing opaque and complicated developments abroad, carrying out covert action, and attempting to forecast events yet to happen; all in an effort to protect our people and to strengthen America's national security," Mr. Brennan further said.
To make it happen, the CIA workforce is made of four main branches of employees: Firstly, the Analyst, "who has the daunting task and tremendous responsibility to take incomplete and frequently contradictory information and advise the senior-most policy-makers of our government about foreign political, military, and economic developments," Secondly, the Operations Officer, "whose job it is to find and obtain those elusive secrets that provide advanced warning of strategic surprise, political turbulence, terrorist plots, impending violence, cyber-attacks, and persistent threats such as nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons proliferation," Thirdly, the Technical Expert, "who seeks new and creative ways to find nuggets of intelligence in tremendous volumes of data, provides secure, and even stealthy, intelligence collection and communication systems, and counters the latest technological threats to our nation," and Fourthly, the Support Officer or Manager "with the responsibility to ensure that the core missions of the Agency: collecting intelligence, providing all source analysis, and, when directed by the President, conducting covert action; are carried out with the requisite skill, speed, agility, and proficiency."
Mr. Brennan "understands the importance and value of maintaining independence, subjectivity, and integrity of the intelligence process," He somehow highlighted the fact that apart from terrorism, there are other threats it would be unwise to ignore under the pretext that terrorism represents the most visible and immediate threat. That's why Mr. Brennan considers that the involvement of the CIA in counterterrorist operations since 9/11 has been "a bit of an aberration from its traditional role." Indeed, the CIA "should not be doing traditional military activities and operations," considering that the CIA's traditional mission on the collection front is to try to determine the plans and intentions, not only of terrorist groups, but also of foreign governments and other foreign state-sponsored and/or criminal interests. From Mr. Brennan's standpoint, the CIA is therefore "best placed" to provide with an "understanding of what foreign countries are doing, what organized criminal organizations are doing, what sub-national groups are doing, and the nature of the threat" to the United States. In fact, the CIA's mission is likely to be intelligence-re-centered under Mr. Brennan's leadership so that it can successfully "collect intelligence, uncover secrets, prevent strategic surprises, and be the best all-source analytic component within the United States government."
Mr. Brennan gave a short overview of the threats the CIA and the whole United States Intelligence Community (IC) have to address. He shared Chairman Feinstein's assessment that generally speaking intelligence "is critical to the successful drawdown in Afghanistan; to the brutal war going on within Syria's borders, across North Africa, where the attacks in Benghazi and the hostage situation in Algeria threaten to spread into the next front against Al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups; for counterterrorism operations around the world; in the efforts by the United States and others to prevent the gain and spread of weapons of mass destruction in Iran, North Korea, and other states; and in addressing emerging threats in space, cyberspace, and elsewhere around the globe." Mr. Brennan also agreed with Senator and Committee's Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss who reminded that despite announcements about Al-Qaeda "being decimated and on the run," the threat of terrorism remains "very real," especially in "Yemen and North Africa."
On the global threats' stage, it appears Al-Qaeda and its affiliates' activities have greatly diversified. Al-Qaeda has been metastasizing in different parts of the world, said Senator Dan Coats. According to Mr. Brennan, "Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and other elements, have grown up and developed as a result of the domestic and local sort of environment," Such an evolution shows the importance of timely and relevant geopolitical information. Indeed, these affiliates "have different features and characteristics" and are "sort of unique unto themselves." A number of them have "local agendas" in addition to an "international agenda" since a strong local presence, thanks to ungoverned spaces that Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of, favored the capabilities for operations abroad. For instance, AQAP in Yemen has "a very determined insurgency effort underway inside of Yemen to try to bring the government (of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi) down," In North Africa, AQIM now includes narcotics smugglers and human traffickers. "They involve quite a bit in kidnapping and ransoms, and also involve in tourist attacks," said Mr. Brennan. In Mali where there "are tremendous expanses of territory where Al-Qaeda can put down roots beyond the reach of local governments", the offensive of the extremist Islamists prompted the military Operation Serval led by France since January. In Somalia, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has been trying to "to suppress the efforts of Al Shabaab and Al-Qaeda in East Africa, and good progress was made there," Mr. Brennan explained. Countries like Nigeria are also dealing with the severe and growing threat of groups like Boko Haram.
From this short assessment, one can suggest that the challenges the CIA and its partners face are constant and immense. If the CIA has a role to play in counter-terrorism, Mr. Brennan underlined, it has to stick to its original mission that is intelligence, especially about foreign governments and any other interests which threaten, now or potentially, the United States. That's why "the need for accurate intelligence and prescient analysis from CIA has never been greater than it is in 2013 or than it will be in the coming years," stated Mr. Brennan. As Historic, political, economic, and social transformations like the so-called "Arab Spring" that swept through the Middle East continue, the CIA needs to integrate cyber-security as a top priority, while improving information-sharing with its IC partners and optimizing its resources so that it can "leverage the capabilities it has, in order to deal with (all) the very challenging issues across a very large globe." Mr. Brennan is a busy man, to say the least.
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