Playing “Good Jihadi-Bad Jihadi”

Ian Wilkie is an American lawyer and terrorism expert living outside of New York City.  Wilkie has lived in Europe, Asia, and Africa and speaks multiple foreign languages.  He is a veteran of the U.S. Army (Infantry), completed French Foreign Legion commando training, and graduated from Vassar College and Tulane Law School.  Wilkie lived in South Asia post-9/11 where he conducted research and has been a consultant and advisor to two U.S. government agencies.  He has also worked for two of the three largest law firms in the world and has served as general counsel to hedge funds.  Wilkie possesses a deep knowledge of terrorist strategy and is currently working on a book called “Checkmate: Jihad’s Endgame.”  Follow Wilkie on Twitter @Wilkmaster.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


Title:  Playing “Good Jihadi-Bad Jihadi”

Date Originally Written:  December 5, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  January 1, 2018.

Summary:  U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter[1] and Ronald Reagan[2] aligned the U.S. with jihadists in Afghanistan against Russia and later gave weapons to Salafi-jihadis allied with Osama Bin Laden[3].  Less than 20 years later, Al Qaeda brought down the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon.  Presently the U.S. is bogged down in Syria and continues to make the foreign policy mistake of playing “Good Jihadi-Bad Jihadi.”

Text:  The United States has been fitfully fighting Muslim-majority countries since shortly after the founding of the nation.  President Thomas Jefferson saw enough of a piracy and kidnap threat to mobilize the Navy and newly formed Marine Corps and deploy them to Africa[4].  Centuries later, the use of violence against civilians is a hallmark of Islamist extremists.  Informed by Islamist interpretations of ample examples in scripture (Qu’ran[5] and Hadith[6]), religious “holy warriors” find it easy to commit atrocities and justify them on perceived religious grounds.  Some clerics support this violence, and some have even gone so far as to condone the use of nuclear[7] and biological[8] weapons against “infidels” based their interpretation of sacred texts.  The violence of these Islamist actors, whether on 9/11 or in Europe, Africa, or the various countries of the Middle East today, is not in doubt.  The history of violence associated with the Islamist jihad (“struggle”) to convert the world to Islam is rife with examples of massacres and forced conversions[9].  Put bluntly, the blood lust of these violent Islamists is not even an open question, yet the U.S. still works with some of the extremists, while trying to kill others.

Afghanistan in the decade from 1979-1989 saw the U.S. advance a strategy of opposing Russia without fighting Russia directly.  The U.S., primarily the Congress and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), believed that Russia could be bloodied and beaten if the “right” people were given the right weapons, clandestinely.  To this end, close ties were forged between the CIA and jihadists and Salafi-jihadis who believed in pedophilia, polygamy, and the liberal application of violence against civilians, including religious minorities.  America knew what Osama bin Laden and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar stood for, yet we still worked with them according to “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” theory of geopolitics[10].  On September 11, 2001, America and the world learned the true dangers of allying with Islamist religious zealots: they may kill U.S. enemies, but they will never be U.S. allies.  Islamist religious zealots answer to their God and no one else, regardless of which faith they profess.

The cold, realpolitik calculus that the CIA made in Afghanistan to work with jihadists and Salafi-Jihadis may have hastened the break-up of the Soviet Union, but it also hastened the end of America’s moral leadership in the eyes of the world.  When these “good” jihadis the U.S. once armed and trained utilized tactics from World War 2[11] against American buildings, the American response was telling: the Saudi allies and sponsors of violent jihad were permitted to leave the U.S., no questions asked[12].  The softball investigation of official Saudi ties to Al Qaeda and 9/11 reflected yet another Machiavellian choice by Washington; the oil money and strategic advantage of remaining allied to the bandit Kingdom[13] outweighed any practical considerations of justice for the victims.  The Saudi departures and lackluster investigation were a clear case of vested interests and money overwhelming U.S. morality and yet, almost two decades later, the survivors and the almost 3,000 dead still demand justice.

America’s reaction to 9/11 consisted of removing the Afghan Taliban from power, but not eliminating their base of support in Pakistan, their illicit drug networks, or their financial backing across the Sunni Muslim world.  The American response largely ignored the fundamentalist horrors of the Afghan Taliban’s behavior towards women, children, and minorities and focused only on which “externally focused” terrorists they were giving refuge to.  Rather like its 180° shift on Osama Bin Laden, the U.S. went from bombing the Afghan Taliban to inviting them to peace talks, in effect treating them like normal people and not the barbarians that they are.  In 2017, the U.S. is still open to sitting across the table from “men” who rape little boys[14] as a matter of honor and shoot schoolgirls in the face[15] as a point of pride, which is moral capitulation of the very worst kind.

Shifting to Syria, we encounter the most egregious examples of playing “Good Jihadi-Bad Jihadi” that the U.S. has ever engaged in.  The fact that the CIA was willing to advance the fiction that foreign fighters from Sunni theocracies were anything but jihadis shows you how gullible and uninformed they believe Americans are[16].  From an ethical point of view, there is no such thing as a “moderate” Sunni foreign insurgent in Syria and there never will be.  Syria is another example of the U.S. trying to advance a larger goal (oppose Shia Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) by making a moral compromise and allying with malign forces.  In Syria, the U.S. has sent entire warehouses full of weapons to some of the most suspect killers on the planet[17].  For example, U.S. antitank missiles have been used by “friendly, moderate rebels” to attack medevac missions and even journalists[18].  Jihadis that the U.S. knows, and possibly trained[19], have used chemical weapons dozens of times in that conflict[20].  That the insurrection in Syria failed is largely due to the fact that Islamist jihadis don’t fight in lanes; they fight everyone and especially each other.  The U.S. continues to arm “bad” jihadis, as there is no such thing as a “good” jihadi, and the results speak for themselves.


Endnotes:

[1] Brzezinski, Zbigniew (Interview). “How Jimmy Carter and I Started the Mujahideen” https://www.counterpunch.org/1998/01/15/how-jimmy-carter-and-i-started-the-mujahideen/ (Accessed 22 Nov 2107).

[2] Kaplan, Fred. “Reagan’s Osama Connection” http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/war_stories/2004/06/reagans_osama_connection.html (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[3] Harnden, Toby. “Taliban still have Reagan’s Stingers” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/1357632/Taliban-still-have-Reagans-Stingers.html (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[4] Hitchens, Christopher. “Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates” https://www.city-journal.org/html/jefferson-versus-muslim-pirates-13013.html (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[5] Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. “Islam Is a Religion of Violence” http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/11/09/islam-is-a-religion-of-violence-ayaan-hirsi-ali-debate-islamic-state/ (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[6] Anonymous. “1.B Violence in Hadith Books” https://islamreligionofwar.wordpress.com/1b-violence-in-hadith-books/ (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[7] Tobey, William & Zolotarev, Pavel. “The Nuclear Terrorism Threat” https://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/files/nuclearterrorismthreatthailand2014.pdf (p.10, Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[8] Gunaratna, Rohan & Pita, René. “Revisiting Al-Qa`ida’s Anthrax Program” https://ctc.usma.edu/posts/revisiting-al-qaida’s-anthrax-program (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[9] Konrad, Mike. “The Greatest Murder Machine in History” http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2014/05/the_greatest_murder_machine_in_history.html (Accessed 5 December 2017).

[10] Coll, Steve (2004). Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Penguin, pp. 125-128.

[11] Editor, Military History Now. “One Way Ticket – Japan’s Kamikazes Weren’t the Only Suicide Pilots of WW2” http://militaryhistorynow.com/2014/03/17/one-way-ticket-japans-kamikazes-werent-the-only-suicide-pilots-of-ww2/ (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[12] Sperry, Paul. “Inside the Saudi 9/11 coverup” https://nypost.com/2013/12/15/inside-the-saudi-911-coverup/ (Accessed 24 Nov 2017).

[13] Zakaria, Fareed. “Saudi Arabia: The devil we know” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/saudi-arabia-the-devil-we-know/2016/04/21/2109ecf6-07fd-11e6-b283-e79d81c63c1b_story.html (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[14] Agence France-Presse. “Male rape and paedophilia: How Taliban uses ‘honey trap’ boys to kill Afghan police” http://www.firstpost.com/world/male-rape-and-paedophilia-how-taliban-uses-honey-trap-boys-to-kill-afghan-police-2837546.html (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[15] Johnston, Ian. “Malala Yousafzai: Being shot by Taliban made me stronger” https://www.nbcnews.com/news/other/malala-yousafzai-being-shot-taliban-made-me-stronger-f6C10612024 (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[16] Mazzetti, Mark, Goldman, Adam & Schmidt, Michael S. “Behind the Sudden Death of a $1 Billion Secret C.I.A. War in Syria” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/world/middleeast/cia-syria-rebel-arm-train-trump.html (Accessed 4 Dec 2017).

[17] Sanger, David E. “Rebel Arms Flow Is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/world/middleeast/jihadists-receiving-most-arms-sent-to-syrian-rebels.html (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[18] Russia Today. “US anti-tank TOW missile used in attack on RT journalists in Syria” https://www.rt.com/news/323810-us-missile-journalists-attack-syria/ (Accessed 5 Dec 2017).

[19] Adl-Tabatabai, Sean. “State Dept: US-Backed Forces Executed Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria” http://yournewswire.com/state-dept-us-forces-chemical-weapons-syria/ (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[20] “State Dep. Admits Opposition in Syria Has Chemical Weapons”
https://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/State-Dep.-Admits-Opposition-in-Syria-Has-Chemical-Weapons-20171020-0006.html (Accessed 24 Nov 2017).

Allies & Partners Assessment Papers Ian Wilkie Islamic State Variants Taliban (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) United States Violent Extremism

Assessment on the Revised Use of Afghan Militias

Suzanne Schroeder is an independent analyst.  She can be found on Twitter @SuzanneSueS57, and on Tumblr.  She is currently working on a long-term project on school poisonings in Afghanistan and has previously written for War on the Rocks.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


Date Originally Written:  November 27, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  December 25, 2017.

Summary:  A new plan is under consideration by the Afghan Government to transform the Afghan Local Police into an Afghan Territorial Army.  While this transformation contributes to the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, without proper oversight, the Afghan Territorial Army could be co-opted by regional strong men.

Text:  The number of U.S. and North American Treaty Organization troops currently in Afghanistan is insufficient to carry out U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy.  This strategy has multiple parts involving an increased use of air power, employing Special Operations Forces in more ambitious ways, and a constant fight to reverse Taliban gains and prevent the Taliban from securing additional territory.  Additionally, there is a counter-terrorism part of the U.S. mission, which unilaterally focuses on containing/defeating the Islamic State-Khorasan Province[1].

On November 19, 2017, The Guardian newspaper reported that Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani is currently considering a U.S. proposal to restructure the Afghan Local Police into the Afghan Territorial Army, modeled after the Indian Territorial Army[2].  The Guardian also reported that the proposal would start with 1,000 men, and possibly reach 20,000, over two years[3].  This proposal has raised numerous concerns with human rights groups, including the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, that fear any new iteration of the militia system will revive the serious abuses that the militias have been accused of in the past ranging  from child sexual abuse to extra judicial killings.  As global attention shifts away from Afghanistan, increased misuses of power are a concern.

If one types the word “arbakis,“ the Pashto world that generally means militias, into the search field on the Taliban’s alemarah website the result is 81 pages where the term is used.  Despite the deceptions and exaggerations that often appear in Taliban propaganda, the negative opinions regarding militias allow the Taliban to gain political capital by exploiting the distrust of these groups based on their records of abusive practices towards civilians.  If this anti-militia narrative did not produce some benefit for the Taliban, it is doubtful they would continue to adhere to it so closely.

The plans to form an Afghan Territorial Army are an attempt to provide a second-line defense against Taliban gains.  The Taliban understand that repeated attacks on military and police targets accomplish the goal of psychological intimidation.  For anyone who may be considering joining the Afghan National Security Forces, the awareness of how often security forces are targeted is a strong deterrent.  Taliban attacks on police and military targets have become increasingly ambitious, complex, and deadly.

The war in Afghanistan is both regionally strategic, and a micro-level conflict driven by local concerns.  All regional players have their own motives for involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan, whether related to security concerns (containing the Islamic State for both Russia and Iran, as an example), or economic opportunities, as in the case with India and the People’s Republic of China.  Also involved are the ever-complex machinations of Pakistan and its security services.  Concurrently, there are numerous local competitions for resources, favors, development projects, drugs, and all other commodities.  These conditions have allowed local powerbrokers, most of whom have connections to the Afghan National Unity Government, to consolidate their power and establish local fealties, policed by militias.  The idea that an Afghan Territorial Army would not be co-opted in some fashion by regional strong men seems dangerously naïve.  Afghan Territorial Army units might also be used as conduits for influence from other regional actors.  There is no reason why Russia, who already assists the Taliban with small arms and a fuel supply scheme[4], wouldn’t seek to co-opt the Afghan Territorial Army.  Any establishment of an Afghan Territorial Army must also take into account the shifting of alliances, which have been so characteristic of this conflict.

A critical part of the counter-terrorism mission in Afghanistan includes the avoidance of another civil war, such as the devastating one that followed the Soviet departure in 1989.  While the continuation of Western aid would seem to prevent this outcome, it’s still a danger that existing conditions can be worsened by sectarianism, social inequality, and the ever-present corruption, that is too entrenched to be effectively combated.  The establishment of an Afghan Territorial Army that is unregulated and operates outside of an accountability structure, would further fuel declining social and political cohesion.  Combined with abuses, and little or no means of redress, Afghan hostilities may be directed at the Afghan National Unity Government, which ironically is greatly lacking in “unity.”  The inability of Afghans to redress the actions of an unregulated Afghan Territorial Army would ensure the Taliban gains support.  One way to preempt this inability of redress is to truly model the Afghan Territorial Army after the Indian Territorial Army, which is subordinated to the Indian Army to ensure proper oversight.

An Afghan Territorial Army with sufficient oversight, including maintaining an accurate inventory of its weapons and equipment, could contribute towards the U.S. strategic goal of recapturing territory from the Taliban (80% back in Afghan government control, after two years), and sufficiently degrading Taliban capabilities to make negotiations seem a reasonable option[5]. While this strategic goal is lofty, a narrower tactical goal could be an Afghan Territorial Army that succeeds in addressing the localized nature of the conflict and offsets the high level of desertions, among other problems that plague the Afghan National Army.

Any future development of the Afghan Territorial Army will require a functioning, sustainable system of oversight, and an awareness of consequences that could potentially damage U.S. engagement in Afghanistan, thus strengthening support for the Taliban.  If the U.S. is invested the creation of an Afghan Territorial Army, then Afghan partners must be willing to adhere to mutually agreed upon guidelines for its employment and oversight, and due care must be taken to evaluate both the potential successes and failures of this type of program throughout its life.


Endnotes:

[1] Author interview, with The Guardian’s Kabul correspondent, Sune Engel Rasmussen, September 11, 2017.

[2] Rasmussen, S. E. (2017, November 19). UN concerned by controversial US plan to revive Afghan militias. Retrieved November 27, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/19/afghanistan-militias-us-un-diplomats

[3] Ibid.

[4] Loyd, A. (2017, November 11). Afghanistan: the war that never ends. Retrieved November 27, 2017, from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/afghanistan-the-war-that-never-ends-mchjpgphh

[5] Stewart, P., Ali, I. (2017, November 20).  U.S. General Sets Two-Year Goal for Driving Back Afghan Taliban.  Retrieved November 27, 2017, from www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2017-11-20/us-general-sets-two-year-goal-for-driving-back-afghan-taliban

Afghanistan Assessment Papers Irregular Forces Suzanne Schroeder Taliban (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) United States

Assessment of the Trump Administration’s Communications with the “Muslim World”

Jason Criss Howk conducted defense, intelligence, diplomatic, and education missions for the U.S. Government focusing on Afghanistan and Muslim cultures for 23 years.  He now teaches, writes, and speaks nationally to decrease anti-religious bigotry.  He shares a variety of information on Twitter @jason_c_howk and at dispatchesFromPinehurst.com. His award-winning book is The Qur’an: A Chronological Modern English Interpretation.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of the Trump Administration’s Communications with the “Muslim World”

Date Originally Written:  December 10, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  December 18, 2017.

Summary:  Fear of Muslims is irrational. Prohibiting a discussion of Islam’s relationship to modern terrorist groups is too. The continuing success of terror recruiting reveals their ideology is a center of gravity, but you cannot shoot an ideology. You have to expose its flaws and turn people against it. One must use the correct terminology when you speak or it empowers terrorists. This is where the Trump Administration has taken 3-steps forward but 1-step back.

Text:  Fear of Muslims is irrational.  Prohibiting a discussion of Islam’s relationship to modern terrorism is too.  President George W. Bush took America into a War on Terrorism[1], President Barack Obama shifted to countering violent extremism[2].  Both stated correctly that America was not at war with Islam.  While acknowledging the importance of countering a terrorist’s ideology[3], neither slowed the spread of violent radical Islamist or khawarij ideologies used to recruit.  Not talking about Islam and its relationship to terrorism has likely contributed to increasing bigotry against Muslims and damaged America’s ability to decrease recruiting.

The number of nations plagued by terrorists has increased, despite America’s excellence at hunting terrorists.  The continuing success of recruiting hints that their ideology is the likely center of gravity.  You cannot shoot or “drone”[4] an ideology.  You have to understand it, expose its flaws, argue about it, and turn people against it thus ensuring the world understands that violent radical Islamism (separate from the religion of Islam) is a failed political ideology causing death and destruction is critical.

Incorrect terminology further empowers mankind’s enemy.  Here the Trump Administration has improved since the campaign yet occasionally stumbles.   President Trump should listen to his advisors that have operated in the “Muslim World,” listen to solid Muslim allies, and only use precise language that helps Muslims to separate violent radicals from society.  President Trump loses ground when he echoes false experts or bigots that push him to use “alpha-male” language that sounds tough, but makes it more difficult for Muslims to stanch the bloodshed.

Not all terrorists are Muslim and not all Muslims are terrorists; only ignorant people believe otherwise.  So, put the straw-man argument aside that says explaining the role of Islam in modern terrorist propaganda will cause anti-Muslim hatred.  The majority of the deadliest terrorists think they are the most pious Muslims in the world.  Their first murder victims were likely Muslims that they deemed “not Muslim enough for them;” (an old khawarij concept).  Most terrorism victims since 2001 were Muslim. It’s illogical not talk about Islam in relation to modern terrorism.

I have spent almost three years leading talks about the religion of Islam, the political ideology of Islamism, and the khawarij or “violent radical Islamist” ideology used by terrorists.  A few things were made clear to me–often angrily.  First, the American people never felt Bush or Obama understood the enemy.  Second, they felt that neither was able to explain a logical strategy for victory.  Finally, audiences felt the Presidents failed them by not talking about how Islam, Islamism, and terrorist ideologies are connected and disconnected.  Americans felt the Presidents believed their citizens were too stupid to have a discussion about Islam.

Instead of civilly talking about Islam and how terrorists can use some parts of the Qur’an to attract fighters to their cause, previous presidents presented straw-man arguments about why they should or would not discuss Islam.  At my discussions, it takes 45 minutes for people who have never studied Islam to grasp this entire concept.  After Bush and Obama, a third president cannot underestimate the intelligence and curiosity of the American people.

If the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia can talk about extreme interpretations of Islam[5] and its relationship to many terrorist groups, and the King of Jordan can succinctly label our enemy as Khawarij[6] using terminology from Islam’s history, the American President can have a straightforward conversation about the topic.

America’s terminology should not drive a wedge between the U.S. and our Muslim allies.  Our language should help Muslims drive a wedge between the khawarij butchers and possible recruits and supporters of this deadly cause.

America can’t use words that help our enemy by complementing murderers or lumping them in with hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims.

Violent radical Islamists want to be called mujahedeen, jihadis, and Muslims.  The word jihad in the Qur’an means to struggle or strive nobly with all your person and wealth in the way of God.  A parallel in Catholicism is the system of sainthood.  Only the most selfless Catholics following God’s path to help others are sainted.  Similarly, in a religious sense, only the best among Muslims should be called mujahedeen (jihadis) which means someone who has performed true jihad.  The word is only used about 14 times in the Qur’an and should be returned to its religious context and taken away from butchers and human rights abusers.  You can’t make jihad into a negative term in a religious sense; so, don’t use it at all.

Instead, insult and brand these violent radical Islamists.  Use the term butcher, murderer, terrorist, khawarij, violent Islamist, loser, Islamist ideologue, distorter or corruptor of Islam, people ignorant of the Qur’an, disgraces, or betrayers of God.

Don’t call violent radical Islamists Muslims or use any negative modifiers in front of the word Islam or Muslim.  These corruptors have left Islam and should be a disgrace to their families.  “Islam” and “Muslims” are both positive words in the Islamic world.  Attaching “Radical” to it is often viewed to mean the entire religion or all Muslims are radical and therefore evil.

Every generation of violent radical Islamist butchers seems to form faster, become more radicalized, kill more gruesomely, and think they are more pious.  The world must stop this trend.

President Trump (obviously not an Islamic scholar) has asked his team and America’s allies to talk clearly about extreme interpretations of the Qur’an and the ideology used by our enemies.  His Riyadh speech[7] was pointed, and by mostly using correct terminology, supported a change[8] that is already underway[9] in the Muslim world.  Start this same discussion in America and ensure that violent radical Islamists and the people who sponsor and provide top-cover for the modern-day Khawarij are exposed and shut down.  Help decrease bigotry towards Muslims.

The world should applaud organizations like this Kuwaiti business[10] that honestly confronted those who purposely misinterpret the Qur’an to justify murder.  All governments should be this brave and clear.

Education won’t end terrorism, but it will impact the long-term fight against Islamist inspired terrorists.  No problem ever improved by refusing to fully examine it and honestly talk about it.


Endnotes:

[1] U.S. Government (2003, February) National Strategy for Combatting Terrorism, retrieved December 11, 2017,  https://www.cia.gov/news-information/cia-the-war-on-terrorism/Counter_Terrorism_Strategy.pdf

[2] U.S. Government (2011, June) National Strategy for Counterterrorism, retrieved December 11, 2017, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/counterterrorism_strategy.pdf

[3] U.S. Government (2006, September) National Strategy for Combatting Terrorism, retrieved December 11, 2017, https://fas.org/irp/threat/nsct2006.pdf

[4] Friedersdorf, Conor (2016, December 23) Obama’s Weak Defense of His Record on Drone Killings, retrieved December 11, 2017 https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/12/president-obamas-weak-defense-of-his-record-on-drone-strikes/511454/

[5] Chulov, Martin (2017, October 24) I will return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam, says crown prince, retrieved December 11, 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/24/i-will-return-saudi-arabia-moderate-islam-crown-prince

[6] Jordan Times (2015, June 11) Nothing treats Islam with more contempt than Khawarij actions — King, retrieved December 11, 2017 http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/nothing-treats-islam-more-contempt-khawarij-actions-—-king

[7] U.S. Government (2017, May) President Trump’s Speech in Riyadh Saudi Arabia, retrieved December 11, 2017 https://dispatchesfrompinehurst.com/2017/05/22/howks-notes-of-president-trumps-speech-in-saudi-arabia/

[8] Bergen, Peter (2017 September 27) Saudi women driving a sign bigger change is coming, retrieved December 11, 2017 http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/27/opinions/symbolism-of-saudi-women-driving/index.html

[9] IRNA, (2017 October 29) Iranian woman appointed first ever no. 2 at Oil Ministry, retrieved December 11, 2017 http://www.irna.ir/en/News/82712122

[10] Zain Mobile (2017 May 26) Anti-Terrorism Video for Ramadan 2017, retrieved December 11, 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U49nOBFv508

Assessment Papers Jason Criss Howk Trump (U.S. President) United States Violent Extremism

Options for Streamlining U.S. Department of Defense Decision Making

Dr. John T. Kuehn has served at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas since 2000.  He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 with the rank of Commander.  He presently teaches as a Professor of Military History in the Department of Military History, as well as teaching for Norwich University (Vermont), Naval War College (Rhode Island), and Wolverhampton University (UK) as an adjunct professor.  He can be found on Twitter @jkuehn50 and writes at https://networks.h-net.org/node/12840/blog.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Editor’s Note:  This article is an entry into our 70th Anniversary Writing Contest: Options for a New U.S. National Security Act.  The author submitted this article under the contest heading of Most Disruptive.


National Security Situation:  Updating the National Security Act of 1947 (NSA 47) so that Department of Defense (DoD) decision-making is as streamlined as possible.

Date Originally Written:  August 30, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  December 4, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a retired Naval Officer and values a return to a national defense structure that includes a broader range of advice and decentralization of power as represented by cabinet secretaries.

Background:  NSA 47 has outlived its utility in the service of the national security of the United States.  In a post-Cold War world of the 21st Century, the system the United States used prior to 1947 is much more suitable to its traditions, Constitution, and the range of threats posed today.  NSA 47 has gone beyond the utility it provided to the United States after World War II.  NSA 47 once had value, especially in a bi-polar Cold War strategic dynamic informed by the terror of atomic and thermonuclear weapons[1].  However, NSA 47’s utility and value have degraded, especially with the end of the Cold War in 1989-1991.  History moved forward while the United States’ macro-security structure remained static.  Subsequent reforms to the 1947 re-organization, such as that by the Goldwater-Nichols Reform Act of 1987 (GNA), have merely “polished the bowling ball,” not recast it into a new shape[2].

Significance:  The Project for National Security Reform (PNSR) began looking at this issue in 2008 and found that NSA 47 no longer fit the strategic environment we are currently facing or will face in the 21st Century[3].  The 2011 PNSR did a good job of describing the problem and challenges in reforming and reorganizing the system[4].  However, the 2011 PNSR provided little else—no bold recommendations about how to make this happen.  What follows are options I modified from a summation of recommendations the PNSR solicited from me in 2011-12:

Option #1:  Disestablish the position of Secretary of Defense (SecDef) and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).  The SecDef / OSD structure has too broad a span of control and this limits the scope of strategic advice Presidents receive.  The SecDef functions would move back under the civilian secretaries of the military departments: Army, Navy and Air Force.

Risk:  Medium.  The risk here was much lower when I first made this recommendation in 2010.  It is higher right now because of the North Korean situation and the need for unity of command of the nuclear arsenal if the worst happens and the U.S. needs to conduct a retaliatory strike should North Korea use nuclear weapons first.  However, the ultimate transfer of that unity of command could go to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) although the President would have to be a direct participant in any nuclear release, just as he is now.  One need not burn the Pentagon down and start afresh, but certainly who answers to whom is a legitimate topic worthy of serious discussion and, more importantly, serious action—by Congress AND the President.

Gain:  DoD decision-making is decentralized to the Military Departments and thus decisions are made quicker.  OSD manpower is redistributed to the Military Departments and the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff thus increasing their respective capability to support the military operations conducted by the Combatant Commands.

Option #2:  Move the civilian Secretaries of Navy, Air Force, and Army back into the cabinet, but retain the SecDef, similar to the way things were organized prior to and during World War II.  The SecDef would still be a part of cabinet, but would be co-equal with the other civilian service secretaries.  Retain the current JCS organization and staff, but enhance the Chairman’s role on the National Security Council (NSC).  As an appointed position, the Chairman can always be relieved in the same manner that President Truman relieved General MacArthur.

Risk:  Low to medium low, for similar reasons listed for Option #1, the security situation is fluid as of this writing with threat of nuclear war.  No other current “crisis,” though, need impede the move to reform.  JCS Chairman role on NSC should include a substantial decrease in the size of the NSC staff, which should leverage more the capabilities of existing organizations like the JCS and the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Gain:  A balance is struck between decentralizing and streamlining decision-making to the Secretaries of the Military Departments while maintaining a SecDef in a coordinating role.  Option #2 is likely more palatable to Congress as current structures are maintained manpower wise yet power is shifted around.

Other Comments:  Congress must be a part of the solution[5].  Policy recommendations need Congressional oversight, responsibility, and accountability so that if a President goes against an NSC-recommended policy or strategy Congress will be in the loop.  One fear has been that this might drive the U.S. toward a “cabinet” system of government and curtail Presidential power.  That fear sounds like a benefit to me.

Additionally, there will be a need for a national debate that includes social media—where politicians quit pre-emptively tweeting and sniping at each other and instead “message” about national security reform—staying on task and staying on message as the public participates in the dialog.  We might turn again to the past, as a generation of millennial Publius’s step forward in a new round of Federalist Paper-type thinking and writing to kick these ideas around and to build real consensus—not just that of Washington insiders[6].  There is no deficit of political and intellectual talent out there-despite what the pundits say and write.  All too often, however, we consult the advice of specially constituted commissions (such as that for 9/11) and then ignore their advice or imperfectly implement only the portions that stop the media howl.

The United States has time.  The current system, as ineffective as it is, is not so broken that we must act quickly and without reflection.  However, I prefer to close with an even more powerful means of highlighting the problem—a story.  Every year, at the end of my World War II series of classes to military officers attending the Army Command and General Staff Office Course, I post the following questions: “The security system that existed prior to and during World War II was so ineffective that it had to be replaced in 1947, right?  This was the same system that the United States used to lose the most desperate and far-ranging war in its history, right?”  Wrong—we won World War II–handily–and we can win again by adopting a system that proved successful in a pre-Cold War world that looks a lot like our world of today.  So-called progress does not always lead to better solutions.  The founders looked backwards to go forward, so can we.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] This is not the first time the author has made this argument, see John T. Kuehn, “Abolish the Office of the Secretary of Defense?” Joint Force Quarterly, Issue 47, 4th Quarter 2007, 114-116.

[2] Recent attempt have been made to have a second round of GNA via the Project for National Security Reform effort, see James Locher et al. “Project for National Security Reform: Preliminary Findings” January 2008 (hereafter PNSR 2008), Washington, D.C.; and more recently the follow-on report from the PNSR from November 2011, “AMERICA’S FIRST QUARTER MILLENNIUM: ENVISIONING A TRANSFORMED NATIONAL SECURITY SYSTEM IN 2026,” see www.pnsr.org (accessed 7/31/2017). Full disclosure, the author was an unpaid consultant for the second report.

[3] PNSR, 2008 and 2011.

[4] PNSR, 2011, p.5.

[5] John T. Kuehn, “I Liked Ike . . . Whence Comes Another? Why PME Needs a Congressional Advocate,” in Joint Force Quarterly 83 (4th Quarter, October 2016): 40-43.

[6] Publius was the pen name for the authors of the Federalist Papers who argued the merits and reasoning behind the Constitution: Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and (especially) James Madison. See, Hamilton, Jay, and Madison, The Federalist Papers (New York: Penguin, 1987), paperback.

Contest Governing Documents John T. Kuehn Option Papers United States

Options for U.S. National Service

Adam Yefet has a Master’s degree in International of Affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.  He is based in Israel.  He can be found on Twitter at @YefetGlobal.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Editor’s Note:  This article is an entry into our 70th Anniversary Writing Contest: Options for a New U.S. National Security Act.  The author submitted this article under the contest heading of Most Disruptive.


National Security Situation:  A revised National Security Act of 1947 could create a national service requirement.

Date Originally Written:  September 30, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  November 20, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Adam Yefet has a Master’s degree in International Affairs from George Washington University.  He writes here as an American concerned with U.S. National Security.

Background:  Seventy years after the signing of the 1947 National Security Act, the world is still an unpredictable and dangerous place, but it is not governed by the same fears.  In 1947, the chief concerns of U.S. national security professionals were re-establishing European stability, and preparing for the coming Cold War with the Soviet Union, and ensuring the United States remained atop the new post-war order in an age of industrialized, mass-produced warfare and nuclear bombs.  The urgency of a threat could be measured in the number of troops, tanks, ships, missiles etcetera that enemy states could marshal.  As such, the 1947 National Security Act established an American military and intelligence complex meant to sustain American interests in the face of these challenges.  Today, conventional warfare remains a primary concern, but not the only one.

Significance:  The modern American political environment has revealed intense cleavages in American socio-politics.  Social trust seems on the verge of breakdown as citizens retreat to curated information bubbles not limited to of-the-day political commentary but expanding into the very facts and analysis of events both modern and historical.  Shared truths are shrinking and becoming a thing of the past.  Internal divisions are the greatest existential threat to the United States of America.  A 2017 National Security Act that includes provisions to bridge this divide could reunite the American people behind the values that helped shape America.

Option #1:  Mandatory National Service.  

A new National Security Act could include a provision for one year of mandatory national service to be required of all Americans to be completed between a certain age rage, for example between the ages of 18 and 25.  There would need to a be a number of service options, some existing, some needing to be created, including service in any of the military branches (which would require longer service) or one of several national organizations such as Peace Corps, Teach for America, and City Year.  New services to be created could involve public, local community, and international development, such as public works projects, agriculture development, vocational work, early childhood development, and senior care.  National service will affect all Americans equally, across socioeconomic, ethnic, cultural, gender, racial, and religious lines. No one can buy their way out of the program.

Risk:  The creation of a national service program in peaceful and relatively prosperous times would be a massive economic and political endeavor that would reshape several industries with an influx of cheap labor.  The financial investment on the part of the government to train, house, and pay even a meager salary would be enormous.  The transition process within affected industries would be long and complicated and would face a winding legal path.  The executive power to do so and the consent of the government and the governed to receive it may be impossible to create outside the aftermath of a sharp crisis like World War II and the ensuing Cold War that brought about the original National Security Act.

The gaping political divide and widespread political disillusionment the program seeks to solve would be two of the greatest threats to undermine the program before it got started.  A requirement of national service would be anathema to many Americans as an assault on their principles of limited government and freedom.  Bipartisan political support may not be enough in the current political environment.  Prolonged resistance to service could be politicized and create another ugly divide within the nation.  A program plagued by political divides and undermined from the beginning would risk doing more harm than good.

Gain:  This requirement to serve would be an opportunity for young Americans to live, work, and consociate and will bind them to each other in common national cause.  Service will create an equal opportunity for American citizens to work and learn in a team environment with a sense of national purpose.

Americans found a significant common bond in the 20th century in the course of winning two world wars, crossing the Depression in between, and living the fears and competitions of the Cold War.  Success in these endeavors came from a sense of purpose, for American victory, and required massive government investments in people, jobs, infrastructure and science that paid off in the creation of our modern state and economy a modern global order that has delivered peace and prosperity to more people than at any previous time in human history.  A mandatory national service program would give all American’s a common bond of shared burden that comes before political divisions.

Option #2:  Re-Instate the Draft.

The United States military is stretched thin from the two longest wars in the country’s history, and the global deployment of troops and resources.  If these conflicts are going to be seen to a successful end while maintaining the U.S. military as the strongest in the world, the United States must ask more of its citizens.  Global politics are entering a transitional period heralding the decline of the American-led global order established after World War II.  Interstate and intrastate conflicts are spreading across the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe.  The future of international relations and affairs is unknowable but the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus should be prepared for catastrophic events.  The Selective Service and Training Act[1] already requires young men, and now women, to register.  The foundation already exists for America’s men and women to be called to service.

Risk:  The peacetime draft of potentially millions of citizens will require the enlargement of the already massive Defense Department budget.  The long-term increased costs for veteran support areas of the government, especially health care, would be significant.  The influx of potentially millions of troops, many of whom do not want to be there will demand experienced leadership from military and political figures who may not be up to the task.  The draft may have the effect of lowering the standards of the military branches as they seek to find places for new soldiers and retain them into the future to meet the demands of American foreign policy.

Gain:  All Americans will share the burden of America’s global role as a military and economic superpower.  Service will give the United States government the manpower it needs to be prepared for the conflicts of the present and future.  The American people called to service will have a greater appreciation of their responsibility as citizens in the management of American democracy and American foreign policy.  The draft would pull in America’s best and brightest for service to the nation’s security.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] 50 U.S.C. – SELECTIVE TRAINING AND SERVICE ACT OF 1940. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2017, from https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/granule/USCODE-2009-title50/USCODE-2009-title50-app-selective-dup1

Contest National Service Option Papers United States

Assessment of U.S. Cyber Command’s Elevation to Unified Combatant Command

Ali Crawford is a current M.A. Candidate at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.  She studies diplomacy and intelligence with a focus on cyber policy and cyber warfare.  She tweets at @ali_craw.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


Title:  Assessment of U.S. Cyber Command’s Elevation to Unified Combatant Command

Date Originally Written:  September 18, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  November 13, 2017.

Summary:  U.S. President Donald Trump instructed the Department of Defense to elevate U.S. Cyber Command to the status of Unified Combatant Command (UCC).  Cyber Command as a UCC could determine the operational standards for missions and possibly streamline decision-making.  Pending Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ nomination, the Commander of Cyber Command will have the opportunity to alter U.S. posturing in cyberspace.

Text:  In August 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Defense to begin initiating Cyber Command’s elevation to a UCC[1].  With the elevation of U.S. Cyber Command there will be ten combatant commands within the U.S. military infrastructure[2].  Combatant commands have geographical[3] or functional areas[4] of responsibility and are granted authorities by law, the President, and the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) to conduct military operations.  This elevation of Cyber Command to become a UCC is a huge progressive step forward.  The character of warfare is changing. Cyberspace has quickly become a new operational domain for war, with battles being waged each day.  The threat landscape in the cyberspace domain is always evolving, and so the U.S. will evolve to meet these new challenges.  Cyber Command’s elevation is timely and demonstrates the Department of Defense’s commitment to defend U.S. national interests across all operational domains.

Cyber Command was established in 2009 to ensure the U.S. would maintain superiority in the cyberspace operational domain.  Reaching full operational capacity in 2010, Cyber Command mainly provides assistance and other augmentative services to the military’s various cyberspace missions, such as planning; coordinating; synchronizing; and preparing, when directed, military operations in cyberspace[5].  Currently, Cyber Command is subordinate to U.S. Strategic Command, but housed within the National Security Agency (NSA).  Cyber Command’s subordinate components include Army Cyber Command, Fleet Cyber Command, Air Force Cyber Command, Marine Forces Cyber Command, and it also maintains an operational relationship with the Coast Guard Cyber Command[6].  By 2018, Cyber Command expects to ready 133 cyber mission force teams which will consist of 25 support teams, 27 combat mission teams, 68 cyber protection teams, and 13 national mission teams[7].

Admiral Michael Rogers of the United States Navy currently heads Cyber Command.  He is also head of the NSA.  This “dual-hatting” of Admiral Rogers is of interest.  President Trump has directed SecDef James Mattis to recommend a nominee to head Cyber Command once it becomes a UCC.  Commanders of Combatant Commands must be uniformed military officers, whereas the NSA may be headed by a civilian.  It is very likely that Mattis will nominate Rogers to lead Cyber Command[8].  Beyond Cyber Command’s current missions, as a UCC its new commander would have the power to alter U.S. tactical and strategic cyberspace behaviors.  The elevation will also streamline the time-sensitive process of conducting cyber operations by possibly enabling a single authority with the capacity to make independent decisions who also has direct access to SecDef Mattis.  The elevation of Cyber Command to a UCC led by a four-star military officer may also point to the Department of Defense re-prioritizing U.S. posturing in cyberspace to become more offensive rather than defensive.

As one can imagine, Admiral Rogers is not thrilled with the idea of splitting his agencies apart.  Fortunately, it is very likely that he will maintain dual-authority for at least another year[9].  The Cyber Command separation from the NSA will also take some time, pending the successful confirmation of a new commander.  Cyber Command would also need to demonstrate its ability to function independently from its NSA intelligence counterpart[10].  Former SecDef Ash Carter and Director of Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper were not fans of Rogers’ dual-hat arrangement.  It remains to be seen what current SecDef Mattis’ or DNI Coats’ think of the “dual hat” arrangement.

Regardless, as this elevation process develops, it is worthwhile to follow.  Whoever becomes commander of Cyber Command, whether it be a novel nominee or Admiral Rogers, will have an incredible opportunity to spearhead a new era of U.S. cyberspace operations, doctrine, and influence policy.  A self-actualized Cyber Command may be able to launch Stuxnet-style attacks aimed at North Korea or speak more nuanced rhetoric aimed at creating impenetrable networks.  Regardless, the elevation of Cyber Command to a UCC signals the growing importance of cyber-related missions and will likely encourage U.S. policymakers to adopt specific cyber policies, all the while ensuring the freedom of action in cyberspace.


Endnotes:

[1] The White House, “Statement by President Donald J. Trump on the Elevation of Cyber Command,” 18 August 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/08/18/statement-donald-j-trump-elevation-cyber-command

[2] Unified Command Plan. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2017, from https://www.defense.gov/About/Military-Departments/Unified-Combatant-Commands/

[3] 10 U.S. Code § 164 – Commanders of combatant commands: assignment; powers and duties. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2017, from https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/10/164

[4] 10 U.S. Code § 167 – Unified combatant command for special operations forces. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2017, from https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/10/167

[5] U.S. Strategic Command, “U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM),” 30 September 2016, http://www.stratcom.mil/Media/Factsheets/Factsheet-View/Article/960492/us-cyber-command-uscybercom/

[6] U.S. Strategic Command, “U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM),” 30 September 2016, http://www.stratcom.mil/Media/Factsheets/Factsheet-View/Article/960492/us-cyber-command-uscybercom/

[7] Richard Sisk, Military, “Cyber Command to Become Unified Combatant Command,” 18 August 2017, http://www.military.com/daily-news/2017/08/18/cyber-command-become-unified-combatant-command.html

[8] Department of Defense, “The Department of Defense Cyber Strategy,” 2015, https://www.defense.gov/News/Special-Reports/0415_Cyber-Strategy/

[9] Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Ellen Nakashima, The Washington Post, “President Trump announces move to elevate Cyber Command,” 18 August 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/08/18/president-trump-announces-move-to-elevate-cyber-command/

[10] Ibid.

Ali Crawford Assessment Papers Cyberspace United States

Assessment of Possible Updates to the National Security Act of 1947

Jeremy J. Grunert is an officer in the United States Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps, currently stationed in the United Kingdom.  He has served in Afghanistan, Qatar, and Turkey.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Editors Note:  This article is an entry into our 70th Anniversary Writing Contest: Options for a New U.S. National Security Act.  The author submitted this article under the contest heading of Most Able to be Implemented.


Title:  Assessment of Possible Updates to the National Security Act of 1947

Date Originally Written:  September 29, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  October 16, 2017.

Summary:  The National Security Act of 1947 played a significant role in establishing the U.S. as the global superpower it is today.  Despite the broad range of challenges facing the U.S. today, a large-scale update to the Act is likely as dangerous as it is politically infeasible.  Instead, Congress may adopt incremental changes to address threats facing our nation, beginning with the system of classification and security clearance review.

Text:  The National Security Act of 1947 (hereafter “NSA”), signed into law by President Harry Truman on July 26, 1947, is the progenitor of the U.S. intelligence and military establishment as we know it today.  The NSA created the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency; established the United States Air Force as an independent military service; and merged the United States’ military services into what would become the Department of Defense, overseen by one Secretary of Defense.  The NSA’s reorganization of the defense and intelligence agencies set the stage for the United States’ post-World War II rise as, first, a military superpower, and, in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, a global hegemon.

Seventy years after the passage of the NSA, the U.S. finds itself in an increasingly challenging security environment.  The lingering war in Afghanistan; the continued threat of terrorism; Russian military adventurism and cyber-meddling; a rising People’s Republic of China; and an increasingly bellicose North Korea all present significant security challenges for the U.S.  Given the solid foundation the NSA provided for the United States’ rise to global hegemony in the difficult period after World War II, is it time to update or amend the NSA to meet the challenges of the 21st Century?

Drastically altering the U.S. security framework as the original NSA did is likely as unwise as it is politically infeasible.  The wholesale creation of new intelligence and military services, or far-reaching changes to the structure of the Department of Defense, would result in confusion and bureaucratic gridlock that the U.S. can ill afford.  Instead, any updates to the NSA would be better done in an incremental fashion—focusing on areas in which changes can be made without resulting in upheaval within the existing security structure.  Two particular areas in which Congressional action can address serious security deficiencies are the realms of intelligence classification and security clearance review.

Proper intelligence classification and proper intelligence sharing—both among organizations within the U.S. national security establishment and between the U.S. and its foreign allies—is imperative to accomplish the U.S.’s strategic aims and protect its citizens.  Improper classification and over-classification, however, pose a continuing threat to the U.S.’s ability to act upon and share intelligence.  At the same time, a mind-bogglingly backlogged system for granting (and renewing) security clearances makes ensuring the proper people are accessing classified information a continuing challenge[1].

Congress has previously amended the NSA to address over-classification[2], and, in conjunction with other Congressional actions, may do so again.  First, whether within the NSA or in a new piece of legislation, Congress may examine amending portions of President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order (EO) 13526.  Specifically, Congress could mandate a reduction of the automatic declassification time for classified intelligence from 10 years to 5 years, absent an agency showing that a longer period of classification is necessary.  Additionally, Congress could amend § 102A of the NSA (codifying the responsibilities of the Director of National Intelligence, including for such things as “Intelligence Information Sharing” under § 102A(g)) by adding a paragraph giving the Director of National Intelligence the authority to create a rapid-reaction board for the speedy declassification or “step-down” of certain classified intelligence.  Chaired, perhaps, by the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence (who can be delegated declassification authority per EO 13526), this board would be used to quickly reach “step-down” decisions with respect to intelligence submitted to the board for release at a certain specified level of classification.  A particularly good example of this sort of request would be a petition to “step-down” certain SECRET//NOFORN (i.e. only releasable to U.S. persons) intelligence for release to U.S. allies or coalition partners.  The goal would be to have a clear method, with a fixed timeframe measured in weeks rather than months, for the review and possible “step-down” of classified information.

Congress may also attempt to address the ever-growing backlog of security clearance applications and renewals.  One way to confront this problem is to amend 50 U.S. Code § 3341(b) and update Title VIII of the NSA (“Access to Classified Information”) to decentralize the process of investigating security clearance applicants.  Section 3341(b) currently requires the President to select a single agency to “direct[] day-to-day oversight of investigations and adjudications for personnel security clearances” and to “serv[e] as the final authority to designate an authorized investigative agency or authorized adjudicative agency” for security clearances[3].  Currently, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) conducts the vast majority of security clearance investigations for U.S. government employees.  The massive backlog of clearance investigations, however, belies the idea that a single government agency can or should be responsible for this undertaking.  Congress could also amend § 3341(b) to allow an agency chosen by the President to establish minimum standards for security clearance investigation, but permit the decentralization of investigative responsibility into the military and intelligence agencies themselves.

An update to Title VIII of the NSA would work in conjunction with an amendment to § 3341(b).  Specifically, Congress could add a paragraph to § 801(a) of the NSA requesting the President require each executive agency, at least within the Defense and Intelligence communities, to establish an investigative section responsible for conducting that agency’s security clearance investigations.  Under the aegis of the minimum standards set forth in § 3341(b), this would allow the various Defense and Intelligence agencies to develop additional standards to meet their own particular requirements, and subject potential clearance candidates to more rigorous review when necessary.  Allowing greater agency flexibility in awarding clearances may reduce the likelihood that a high-risk individual could obtain a clearance via the standard OPM vetting process.

The changes to the National Security Act of 1947 and other laws described above are small steps toward addressing significant security challenges.  Addressing the security challenges facing the United States requires incremental changes—changes which will address concrete problems without an upheaval in our Defense and Intelligence agencies.  Focusing on fixing deficiencies in the United States’ classification and security clearance review systems is an excellent place to start.


Endnotes:

[1] Riechmann, D. (2017, September 11). Security clearance backlog leads to risky interim passes. Retrieved September 21, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/security-clearance-backlog-leads-to-risky-interim-passes/2017/09/11/b9fb21dc-972b-11e7-af6a-6555caaeb8dc_story.html?utm_term=.e487926aac60

[2] Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-258, 124 Stat. 2648 (2010). Retrieved September 21, 2017, from https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/laws/reducing-over-classification-act-2010

[3] 50 U.S.C. § 3341(b).  Retrieved September 22, 2017, from https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/50/3341

Assessment Papers Contest Governing Documents Jeremy J. Grunert Security Classification United States