Along with public elation and relief, the killing of Osama bin Laden by an elite squad of Navy SEALs bolstered by years of painstaking geospatial and human intelligence offered an antidote to a pessimistic portrait of U.S. intelligence gathering.
The news was greeted as proof that information-sharing between intelligence and military forces is no longer the exception to the rule, but simply the way the intelligence community does business.
Louis Tucker, former minority staff director for the Senate select committee on intelligence, said there have been a number of recent examples of information-sharing successes, but this one — with such a high-value target — is getting the publicity, “so it may be a good time to talk about it,” he added.
“I think the intelligence community, on a tactical operation like this, has been working very well for some time together,” said Tucker, who has since launched a start-up consulting firm for private-sector national security companies. “I think the days of the various agencies’ guys-on-the-ground not talking to each other are over.”
In the immediate aftermath of bin Laden’s demise, there are two issues that will likely come to the fore.
The fact that bin Laden was eventually cornered in a $1 million compound near a Pakistan military installation has immediately highlighted doubts about the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan told reporters Monday it’s “inconceivable” bin Laden didn’t have a support system to aid him inside Pakistan.
While a public dust-up may be coming, it could have only short-term implications similar to the clamor surrounding CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who reportedly shot two armed Pakistani men January, which contributed to a decline in diplomatic relations.
Eventually, tensions will probably ease and relations return to “the way that we’ve always dealt with Pakistan,” Tucker said. “Sometimes, that means working together and sometimes that means we have to be a little more circumspect with our information-sharing.”
When asked about issues further down the road, Tucker said one possibility is a discussion into the nature of the mission itself, including to what extent a “capture” operation was considered versus a “kill” mission.
“With the amount of lead time we had, it seems like a capture mission was a viable option, so it will be interesting to see why the mission was designed the way it was,” Tucker said, noting that a kill operation forgoes the possibility of valuable human intelligence.
“A couple months from now, when the furor dies down, it will be interesting to look at not only the tactical and strategic elements but the political considerations in making that determination as well,” he added.
Tucker is not playing Monday-morning quarterback. Before he joined the Senate intel committee, he was a CIA intelligence officer and a Navy SEAL for more than nine years. When asked about the experience of the Senate staff, he acknowledged that his extensive “operational experience” was uncommon among staff advisers. “I think it is important to have folks on the committee that have a background in either intelligence or the military,” he said. “That’s why I served there.”
Shakeup a Switch of Personalities, Philosophies
In just the past week, the intelligence world has been upended by major news. First, Obama announced a key shakeup to his national security team, detailing CIA Director Leon Panetta would replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has long indicated he would retire this year. Filling the impending CIA vacancy will be Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan.
Tucker said Panetta, a surprise pick when Obama nominated him to his CIA post in 2009, is one of the best national-security professionals in the administration. A former California congressman who chaired the House budget committee, he’s “clearly experienced” in the minutiae of budget policy, Tucker said, which is going to be increasingly important with an understanding of how the Hill works and an open line to top policymakers on Pennsylvania Avenue. “That will be key in the next budget cycle,” he said.
But the realignment on the CIA’s seventh floor and the Pentagon’s E-ring is a “double switch,” Tucker said, referring not only to the personnel shakeup, but also to the shifts in philosophy and strategy of the different agencies and the new men who will lead them.
Panetta, who is identified with his role in counterterrorism activities, will shift to the Pentagon, whose main operating philosophy has been that of counterinsurgency, Tucker said. It will be exactly the reverse for Petraeus, the author of COIN’s modern manifesto, who will head the CIA, which is known for its focus on counterterrorism.
“So it is interesting how you’re bringing in leaders from counter-perspectives to those organizations,” Tucker added, “and we’ll see how that goes in the long run.”
Panetta was an unconventional pick for CIA director, but he clearly flourished in the role. According to The Washington Times, he has been credited with boosting morale at an agency hit by allegations of detainee mistreatment.
“Historically, what the agency has wanted is not a director who is extremely hands-on,” Tucker said. “The agency has wanted a director who can represent them well, who can protect them, who has a good relationship with the president and can empower them with their mission, not a micro-manager.”