14 December 2020

2021 outlook - The US intelligence

Sergiu Medar

Comparing to former president Donald Trump, Joe Biden will have a closer, more professional relation with the intelligence services. Having a large political experience at the highest level, the US president-elect knows what and how to ask for something and also what expectations to have from the national intelligence services.

Image source: CIA

In the entire world, the intelligence field is continuously changing, because the nature of the threats against states’ national security is also changing. New threats are emerging, related to the fifth generation aggressive technologies, which are threatening the territorial or psychical integrity of the states and people and, hereof, the urgent need to get information about their modus operandi and their prevention. The complexity of the new systems comes also from the fact that they are either fixed or unstable, in order to offer a strategic advantage to the “combat intelligence” domain, normally dedicated only to the tactical field.

Currently, no one can say there is a lack of information. However, its huge quantity makes it difficult for the analysts to transform it into the final product: the intelligence.

Those working in the field got used to the idea that “if a confrontation was successful, it was thanks to the leader, but if it was a failure, then the intelligence provider is to blame”. This paradigm is, unfortunately, often true: a proof to that end is the fact that starting with Pearl Harbor and continuing with the September 11, 2001, up to the SARS CoV-2 pandemic, the necessary information was sent to the decision maker, but he did not read the information or thought it was false. If the decision maker would have talked with the intelligence provider, then, maybe, all of this could have been avoided. Mutual trust between the two people involved in the process must be at the bottom of a good decision.

Joseph Biden states he will be extremely careful and attentive with reestablishing the relation between the White House and the US Intelligence Community. This means he will implement new national security strategies. To that end, he will push away all the careerists who are close to the president and will destroy all the “deep state” mechanisms which, for political advantages, led to sensitive information leaks to the media.

The Chinese philosopher, Sun Tsu, said: “who he has the information, has the power”. There were many leaders who had the information, but they did not have the power. That happened because they did not have the necessary intelligence education to assess the intelligence product. It was also the fault of the information providers, who, because they feared manipulation allegations, did not provide an “actionable intelligence” to allow the immediate intervention.  

Because Biden is unhappy with how the US intelligence community worked during the Trump mandate, he decided to change the intelligence chief and the leaders of the main services.

There were some speculations according to which Trump will do that, before ending the mandate, but that would have been totally unprofessional. So far, he did not make such a decision.

As for the intelligence process, the biggest mistake a leader can do is politicizing it, which is asking for information to then use it for political purposes in the internal political competition. Trump cannot be accused for politicizing it, because he simply ignored the information received from services. He was more interested in the information the media was getting, than in the information the intelligence services were providing him.

The only moment Trump asked for information from the special services was when his political career was being threatened, through the actions of his political rival in Ukraine and Russia.

Biden will begin his mandate by changing the chief of the National Intelligence Community and those of the most important services. As he has a large political experience and because he wanted to reduce the political pressure they were facing and he did not want them to be attacked by his opponents, the president-elect revealed his proposals for the main positions in the National Intelligence Community. Thus, the new administration shows it wants to be transparent with its decisions, exactly from the moment they are setting them up. To that end, Biden plans to appoint Mrs. Avril Haines, former deputy of the National Security Counselor and deputy of the CIA director during the Obama Administration, as chief of the National Intelligence Community. Well-known for being an effective, authoritarian and experienced leader, but also an expert in the intelligence field, she is expected to be the perfect person for this position. For the important position of counselor for National Security, Biden proposed Jake Sullivan, and he proposed also Anthony Blinken to be the next Secretary of State.

But the opinions expressed during the electoral campaign seem to indicate that the US president-elect is a dab hand of the modus operandi of an intelligence service. As he knows how important is the permanent connection between a leader and the information provider, Biden has announced that after January 20th he will increase the frequency of the briefings of the intelligence services at the White House, he will personally go to their headquarters and he will take measures for the information he receives to be included in the planning of the governmental institutions and be incorporated in their policies.

Due to the excessive use of words like “most likely” and “possibly” in the presentations of the intelligence analyses and given the high expectations of the new leader of the White House, he will ask for more firmness from the briefings and, hereof, some disputes between the two sides might emerge.

Given the elaboration of a new national security strategy, in a world that is continuously changing, Biden, who is supporter of a present America and an America that is leading all these changes, will need certain, relevant, prompt, opportune and actionable information to get the country back on the dominating position of global leader.

The liberal policy of the new leader at the White House will rely on deterrence through force threats, but he be try to use force as a last method. The diplomatic negotiations will be more frequent than the presence of the US soldiers on the territory of other states. Biden, who is the strong supporter of democracy, is aware that the world will not set up alone. In order to do that, state must get help from the entire democratic community.

After Biden has supported, while being senator, the use of force against Iraq, in 2002, he turned into a convinced pacifist. In 2007, he supported the peaceful division of Iraq, he opposed the US army presence in Afghanistan, the US air strikes on Libya, the Syria’s rebels and the Ukraine’s governmental forces arming. Biden will not lose the chance to quickly interfere in the fight against the terrorist manifestations. In order to combat terrorism, the US will get more and more involved in developing FINNIT capabilities (Financial Intelligence) to identify the financial sources of the terrorist groups.

The existent threats against the humankind are multinational, thus, the retaliation must also be multinational. Therefore, Biden will start new discussions in the multinational organizations the US withdrew from during the Trump Administration.

The president elect, within the extended negotiations he will conduct internationally, will need national security information, but also information specific to competitive intelligence, including the profile of the negotiation partners.

The US will continue to keep its presence in the possible conflicting areas, affecting the national security, hereof, the highlight of the main targets of its intelligence services. The main priority in the Middle East will be to stop the transformation of any state in a regional power and to keep a military, economic and financial balance between the states of the Gulf. It is still possible, anytime during the last days of the Trump’s mandate, to witness a US military aggression, together with the allies in the area, against Iran. The presence of the nuclear aircraft carrier “Nimits” is supporting such a scenario. The US intelligence services had a strong presence in the area to reach such an objective. These are not targeting Iran alone, but also its neighbors.

The White House will use all the means available to get the updated information about the Iranian nuclear program. Directing all different information collection means towards the same target has proved the US capabilities in the HUMINT, IMINT, SIGINT and MASINT fields, as well as the possibility of some multi-sourced precise analyses. This information will give the US the advantage of setting the negotiation terms in a possible US-Iran discussion on the nuclear treaty.

Biden does not want to increase the defence spending, but to increase the high-tech equipment costs. The cyber means, both offensive and defensive ones, are part of this category.

The intelligence structures must identify the hidden messages and the “fake news” of the underground diplomacy, as well as its financial sources.

During the Biden mandate, the role of the intelligence services in making national decisions will be bigger. They will get more requests from the decision makers, which will ask both for more precise and opportune answers to their questions.

Translated by Andreea Soare