Thursday, September 13, 2012

The "Logistics" of Intelligence

***UPDATE/17 Sep 2012***

Mitt Romney finally received his first national intelligence briefing on Monday. A campaign spokesman said the GOP presidential nominee met with "members of the intelligence community" at a federal building in the Los Angeles area. The briefing lasted for more than two hours (emphasis ours). Romney's update came more than three weeks after the Republican convention in Tampa, raising questions about the apparent delay. During recent campaigns, presidential challengers have typically received their first intel briefings within days of the nominating convention.

While initial intel updates for presidential candidates are often long, the Los Angeles meeting suggests that Mr. Romney had lots of questions for his briefers. That's reassuring, when you consider the current commander-in-chief has skipped more than half of his intel updates, and didn't receive a single intelligence briefing in the week leading up to the current unrest in the Middle East. A (potential) President who is actually attends his intel briefs? That would be a refreshing change.

Gee, I never knew the "logistics" of intelligence briefings were so difficult.

Amid the kerfuffle over Mitt Romney's comments about anti-American violence in the Middle East (and the murder of our ambassador to Libya), we also learned this rather interesting fact:

Almost three weeks after accepting his party's nomination for President, Mr. Romney was yet to receive an intelligence briefing.

Given the gravity of issues facing a prospective commander-in-chief, it has become customary for each party's nominee to receive regular intelligence updates during the run-up to the fall election. In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama received his first briefing just five days after accepting the Democratic nomination.

So why hasn't Mitt Romney received the same courtesy? According to a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence, it's a matter of "logistics."

As the nominee, Romney should receive classified briefings on U.S. intelligence, but administration officials said that hasn't been arranged yet.

"The intelligence community is working closely with the Romney campaign to finalize the logistics for the candidate briefings," said Shawn Turner, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Incidentally, that information was buried deep in an Associated Press article that followed the media "theme of the day," suggesting that Mr. Romney somehow misspoke on the Middle East, spoke too soon, or violated the old dictum that "politics ends at the water's edge."

I'll leave that debate to others, but it is rather curious that John Kerry repeatedly criticized George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War during the 2004 campaign, and even Barack Obama used the deaths of nine American soldiers to criticize President Bush and the 2008 GOP nominee, John McCain.

Equally curious is the "logistics" argument that has supposedly prevented Mr. Romney from receiving intelligence updates. While details of these briefings have not been disclosed, they are believed similar to the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB), which is provided to the commander-in-chief.

As a former command intelligence briefer, I'm wondering why it has become so difficult to get information to Mr. Obama's Republican rival. In reality, the "logistics," cited by Turner are rather simple. As noted in previous posts, the intelligence community has invested heavily in secure communications networks for the dissemination of Secret and Top Secret information. Data classified up to the Secret level can be posed on SIPRNET (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network), while TS/SCI material is hosted on the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS).

Terminals for the JWICS (read: desktop or laptop PCs with the right comm connections and security systems) are located at all intelligence nodes and most military installations. Regardless of where Mr. Romney is campaigning, he's never more than a couple of hours from a sensitive compartmentalized intelligence facility (SCIF), where intelligence briefers can access the latest information and provide it to the Republican candidate.

Shouldn't be that difficult. Today, for example, Governor Romney is campaigning in Fairfax, Virginia, barely 16 miles from ODNI headquarters in nearby McLean. Yeah, traffic on the Beltway or I-66 can be a bear, but it wouldn't be that difficult to dispatch a briefer to Mr. Romney's hotel and allow him to review a hard-copy or computer version of the daily summary.

The same drill applies at more remote locations. On Friday, Mr. Romney will be on the road in Painesville, Ohio, near Cleveland. One of the largest intelligence organizations in the Air Force, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), is located at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, 235 miles away. A DNI briefer could easily access intel information at that node and ferry it to Mr. Romney at Painesville. Intelligence material is also available through JWICS terminals belonging to the Ohio National Guard and Air National Guard, along with federal law enforcement agencies. And thanks to the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS), the security clearance and identity of anyone with access to classified information can be instantly verified.

But let's say the intel update contains Special Access Program/Special Access Required (SAP/SAR) material, or ODNI doesn't want to coordinate working from someone else's facility. In those situations, the ODNI briefer still has the option of preparing the briefing in McLean, and flying to Mr. Romney's destination on a government jet. It's hardly a problem for the DNI to schedule such a flight and coordinate it with the Romney campaign, so the information reaches the candidate at the scheduled time.

Truth be told, the "logistics" of getting intel information to Governor Romney are pretty simple. It's really a matter of professional courtesy, one that was readily extended to candidate Obama in 2008, but one that has been denied to Mr. Romney this time around. It's a subject you'd think the mainstream media might be interested in, but they're too busy trying to stretch the Libya e theme into multiple news cycles.


cfmulloy said...

I think it's probably even easier than that. I read in Rumsfeld's book that for his daily briefing, there's a "SCIF tent" available, to block out passive monitoring techniques, and like you said, there has to be some facility nearby with a SCIF, no matter where he is. So all they have to do is assign him a briefer, give the briefing team one of those tents, have the briefing team travel to the nearest SCIF, print out the briefing book, and take it to Romney in his hotel room, and brief in the tent.

You don't even need to go through the logistical hassle of bringing the candidate and his national security entourage onto a base and get them cleared into the SCIF (which, actually, may be a bit of a logistical challenge considering the fact that a lot of those people probably aren't cleared). Just have the Secret Service detail clear a room, set up the tent, brief the materials, and then hand-carry them back to a SCIF to be properly destroyed. It's done every day for the President, VP, SECDEF, Attorney General, FBI Director, etc. etc. We know how to do this. There's plenty of JWICS terminals out there, plenty of SCIFs, and plenty of people at ODNI in need of something to do. If they could do it for Rumsfeld, they can do it for Romney. Unless, of course, the don't want to...

joated said...

To be fair, Obama hasn't sat in any intelligence briefings either.

Chris said...

The fact that Romney has not yet gotten this information could possibly be attributed to failings on both sides to coordinate info exchange (hence the use of the term "logistics). That should be corrected immediately - he has earned and deserves that courtesy.

But to think that this is something that the "mainstream" media - or any other media outlet, save Fox News - would think interesting is folly, unless the Obama administration came right out and said, "We're just not going to give it to him" or if the Romney camp says, "We have asked for it, and they won't give it." Because otherwise, this is a 1 on a scale of 10 in terms of being interesting or relevant to the election.