Small Wars Journal

How CNAS Published a General's Brutal Intel Critique (Updated)

How a Plugged-In DC Think Tank Published a General's Brutal Intel Critique - Nathan Hodge, Danger Room.

In military circles, the talk all week has been about how and why the top intelligence officer in Afghanistan wound up publishing a scathing critique through a small-but-influential think tank. Now, we've got the answers.

When Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn published his tough assessment of the military's spy agencies in Afghanistan, it caught Pentagon officials by surprise — not least because Flynn distributed it through Center for a New American Security. While Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said through his press secretary that he thought Flynn's findings were "spot on," he made it clear he was a bit uncomfortable with the conduit Flynn used to distribute the report. Reuters, quoting Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, said Gates had "real reservations about the general's choice of venue for publication."

So how, exactly, did the think tank get picked to publish the report? According to Nathaniel Fick, the chief executive officer of CNAS, the whole thing was a "bolt from the blue."

In a conversation yesterday with Danger Room, Fick and CNAS President John Nagl acknowledged that the move was unusual, but said the decision to go through CNAS was based on Flynn's desire to get the report out rapidly, reach the widest possible audience and provoke much-needed debate...

More at Danger Room.

The Flynn report (III): A Spy Generation Gap? - Tom Ricks, Best Defense.

There seems to be a generation gap in the intel community, judging by the sharply different reactions of younger and older spooks to the controversial new CNAS report on how to change intelligence in Afghanistan, written by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn and a couple of members of his entourage. The young folks (battalion S-2s and below) seem to be saying they like the assessment and don't mind the venue. The old folks (especially back here in the DC area) dislike the assessment and are appalled at the fact that Maj. Gen. Flynn released the report through a think tank...

More at Best Defense.

The Flynn Report (IV): Cordesman's Take - Tom Ricks, Best Defense.

On the other hand, Anthony Cordesman of CSIS is one old school intel guy who likes the Flynn report...

More at Best Defense.


Anonymous (not verified)

Fri, 01/08/2010 - 3:28pm

A main point of MajGen. Flynn's comments was toward changing our collection effort in Afghanistan away from the enemy and more toward population-centric information gathering and analysis. Is it possible that Flynn's boss is at odds with the president's newer approach, which seems to be moving in a differant direction?

As pointed out in the Atlantic Wire by one contributor, possibly Gen. McChrystal isn't on board with the change of direction and this was purposely released though CNAS to make that known?

I find no fault with MajGen Flynn's analysis in general, and applaud it, but view his conduit for release as a similar tactic taken earlier with the leak of General McChrystal's earlier evaluation through Bob Woodward.

Anecdotally: if war is an expression of politics; it may be that Gen McChrystal and his staff see politics as an expression of war.

Anonymous (not verified)

Fri, 01/08/2010 - 5:48pm


Especially as this comes on the heels of the recent "COIN Toss" post, which describes the apparent close relationship between Nagl/CNAS and the Democratic Party/Obama Administration.


Fri, 01/08/2010 - 8:20pm

I see nothing new here. This paper reads like a lot of cliches and common sense statements. It expresses frustration at a real or perceived lack of manpower and with the disparity between expectations and results of counterparts at lower echelons. Welcome to the Army.

Not every shortcoming of a staff officer is due to an organizational straightjacket or poor doctrine. Staff officers work for their commander and they prioritize their efforts according to that commander's guidance. Many of the issues raised in this piece are the result of insufficient emphasis by tactical commanders on developing and answering intelligence requirements (great example - the questions on page 8 - how much simpler can it get?).

Most of the issues in this article are derived from the pervasive foolishness that everyone gripes about (the authors are no different) but nobody ever corrects: over-classification, duplication of effort, and utilizing S-2 personnel to be the producers of data rather than being analysts who consume it and make it into something useful for units they support.

I have no serious objection to the basic ideas - as I said, most are common sense - but the solutions seems overly laborious. You don't need to reinvent a tire that is low on air - just re-inflate it. I think the guy who holds the patent is probably angry right now.

These issues are less structural and more due to commander's discretion at each lower echelon. The solution for that is a change in command emphasis, not a sweeping overhaul of task organization. This paper really makes me wonder about the relationship between the ISAF commander and his CJ-2. Does he feel so disenfranchised or powerless that he needs to publish a paper in a manner that will ensure widest dissemination, rather than simply going to the commander and explaining that change needs to occur? Or is this part of a media stunt to raise awareness of a desire for a new stream of funding?

Lastly, I can't help myself...
<em>Under our proposal, analysts would train for one week at the COIN Academy in Kabul before beginning work in the field.</em>
Think back to any 40-hour course you've done in the military. C'mon now.

<em>Microsoft Word, rather than PowerPoint, should be the tool of choice for intelligence professionals in a counterinsurgency.</em>
Well, I guess it's a start.

Outlaw 7

Sat, 01/09/2010 - 4:01pm

Gen. Flynn knew well enough of the internal politics of the MI world he was rocking as well the world of the BCT trigger pulling Cmdrs.

The core of the article anti-insurgency vs true counterinsurgency was one major theme focused on both the MI world as well as the trigger pulling world. The second core critique which is far deeper goes to the training methods (especially MI) and the CTCs---namely the "storyboards" being constantly generated in order to "prove" one is conducting anti-insurgency. Targeting cannot function in the current BCT world without a "storyboard", warrant based targeting cannot move without a "storyboard" and certainly CTC scenario AARs cannot function without "storyboards".

"Storyboards" have become the death by PowerPoint just as a BCT cannot function without the mandatory meetings and approvals one has to get in order to just target in Afghanistan---one recent SF article spoke about 11 approvals to just get a decision to fire. It is almost to the point that BCT Cmdrs, S2 and S3s do not move unless the required "storyboards are in place, and part of the targeting packets" and the mandatory meetings have been made.

I think Gen. Flynn has as well questioned the ability of Commanding as it has become through Iraq too focused on anti-insurgency (kill/capture and disrupt or destroy IED cells or networks---and NOT focusing on the true concepts of counterinsurgency which is the protection of the population and peeling the insurgent out of the population.

another anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 01/09/2010 - 5:27pm

a calculating move. pre-empt any criticsm (numerous intelligence gaffes the past weeks) by criticizing the flaws first yourself. and in order to ensure that people know the criticism is taking place, make sure it's generated publicly. As the head honcho intel chief he could always contact via SIPR but his target audience was larger, and his intentions wider.

Nagl added. "He reached out to us. We did not reach out to him."