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Re-Budgeting for a Right-Sized International Counterterrorism Posture

Dr. Matthew Levitt, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Dr. Matthew Levitt is the Former-Wexler fellow and director of the Reinhard program on counterterrorism and intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  An adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s safety research program, Levitt beforehand served as Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis.  Twenty years in the past, Levitt led the FBI analytical workforce for flight UA175 as a part of the PENTTBOM investigation.  Levitt is the creator of Rethinking U.S. Efforts on Counterterrorism: Toward a Sustainable Plan Two Decades After 9/11, a part of The Washington Institute’s Transition 2021 collection, from which this essay is drawn.

After simply six weeks in the workplace, the Biden administration launched its Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, offering departments and businesses the president’s “vision for how America will engage with the world,” and instructing departments and businesses to align their actions accordingly even earlier than the Biden administration completes the method of drafting a full-fledged National Security Strategy.  While basic, the interim steering affords some clear markers, together with a pledge to not have interaction in “forever wars” and to “right-size” the U.S. army presence within the Middle East to “to the level required to disrupt international terrorist networks, deter Iranian aggression, and protect other vital U.S. interests.” As a new examination on Rethinking U.S. Efforts on Counterterrorism explains, for technical budgetary causes any effort to rationalize America’s worldwide counterterrorism posture without sacrificing the safety positive factors of the previous 20 years could show frustratingly troublesome to perform.

President Biden’s interim steering echoes a broadly bipartisan want to rationalize U.S. funding in counterterrorism that goes again to a minimum of the Obama and Trump administrations.  Leaders in each the Democratic and Republican events additionally stress the necessity to finish “forever wars,” focus counterterrorism sources on defending the U.S. homeland and depend on overseas companions to take the lead—with U.S. help—on countering terrorism of their neighborhoods.  As the 2018 National Defense Strategy makes clear, “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.” This displays each the rise of Great Power and close to energy competitors as strategic threats to the U.S. nationwide safety and the success of Washington’s twenty-year funding in counterterrorism and homeland safety.  The terrorist threats going through the United States are extra dispersed at the moment than they have been on September 11, 2001, however, there may be now a basic settlement on the necessity to transfer the counterterrorism mission set to an extra sustainable and enduring posture.

Operationalizing a shift in how the United States approaches counterterrorism, nevertheless, would require navigating important bureaucratic hurdles, probably the most important of which revolves around rejiggering the best way the federal authorities budgets for counterterrorism particularly, and intelligence help throughout vital mission units like counterterrorism extra broadly.  It will even require a sturdy, top-down system of interagency coordination and strategic planning that has been missing lately.

“Less Warfighter, More NSA”

By definition, shifting away from 20 years of counterterrorism premised on an aggressive ahead protection posture and towards yet another targeted on indicators and warning means assuming some better degree of threat. The nightmare situation entails pulling U.S. forces out of key places the place terrorist teams are energetic, solely to undergo an assault on the homeland because of the lack of key intelligence capabilities. In the phrases of 1 former U.S. counterterrorism official, “Force investments in counterterrorism are not completely rational; they become emotional once there’s been an attack.”

To mitigate such dangers, the United States should rewire counterterrorism intelligence budgets to make sure they aren’t gutted by default because the Defense Department pivots to deal with different urgent nationwide safety points. Over the previous twenty years, counterterrorism packages have been largely pushed by army efforts to take the struggle to the enemy. Deeply embedded within the army mission, funding for counterterrorism intelligence operations overseas was scaffolded on army budgets. U.S. {dollars} and intelligence capabilities have been overwhelmingly invested in supporting kinetic operations. Likewise, overseas intelligence assortment packages—together with people who straight help FBI investigations, watch-listing of recognized or suspected terrorists (KSTs), and different home counterterrorism efforts have been pushed by these army counterterrorism operations overseas. As the United States shifts away from this army posture, the funding and personnel who trickled right down to help different key parts of the counterterrorism group will presumably additionally shift, with the army, to different mission units. It is vital that policymakers and strategic planners disentangle the funding for counterterrorism intelligence assortment from their present bigger army finances bins to stop the lack of key help to downstream counterterrorism actions.

Beyond the $23.1 billion within the Military Intelligence Program, a lot of the $62.7 billion within the bigger National Intelligence Program additionally falls underneath the Defense Department. As an end result, counterterrorism officers fear that because the intelligence group is pushed by the National Defense Strategy to deal with interstate competitors, a lack of budgetary transparency might depart the group ill-prepared to proceed to support the counterterrorism mission set on the ranges mandatory to offer efficient indicators and warning. One official put it this fashion:

Today’s counterterrorism infrastructure is constructed on kinetic actions and instruments and this leaves us a bit uncovered…We have technical capabilities worldwide—SIGINT [signals intelligence], overhead ISR, and so forth.—and this drives assortment for all types of issues. It’s there to help kinetic efforts, however, it’s wanted for Treasury, FBI, case records data, watch lists, and much extra.

Lt. Gen. Michael Nagata (Ret.), former director of strategic operational planning on the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), explains additional: “The lion’s share of our investments since 9/11 in developing new CT capability and capacity has gone primarily toward the identification, illumination, targeting and tracking, and, as we say in the counterterrorism world, ‘the finishing’ of terrorists and terrorist plots.” This drove “extraordinary investments in new intelligence community capabilities, a revolution in military affairs when it comes to combating irregular and insurgent forces,” together with the efforts to defend borders and disrupt plots.

In the long run, some investments that facilitated this “revolution in military affairs” will have to be reallocated in order that they nonetheless help the counterterrorism mission, even because it shifts away from a principally army focus to 1 primarily based on indicators and warnings. The mission could now require fewer armed drones however extra drones with sensors and different intelligence assortment platforms. “Today, the information we need for many counterterrorism efforts comes from toolsets primarily created to support the kinetic mission,” one senior counterterrorism official defined. “Now, we need to invest in the collection; less warfighter, more NSA.” The terrorist threats persist even because the United States seeks to recalibrate its counterterrorism mission set, placing better strain on the intelligence group to see threats over the horizon.

Investment Required in IC Modernization and Innovation

Securing devoted, sustainable counterterrorism finances because the Defense Department shifts to deal with different nationwide safety priorities is vital however not ample. Before the counterterrorism burden strikes towards indicators and warning, funds have to be offered to kick-start an intelligence group (IC) modernization program and develop long-overdue improvements to deal with the moment’s terrorist challenges.

Forecasting threats primarily based on intelligence is an artwork, not a science, and regardless of herculean efforts, the U.S. intelligence group has been caught flat-footed greater than as soon as. In 2009, the intelligence group thought of AQAP as a regional risk, till Christmas Day “underwear bomber” Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab practically blew up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit. The following 12 months, a bombing plot in Times Square has tied again to the Pakistani Taliban, a group the IC had assessed to be a solely regional risk in South Asia. Then, in 2014, the rise of the Islamic State caught the United States unprepared. Looking again at this failure 4 years later, General Nagata put it bluntly: “The fact that ISIS suddenly emerged as a strategic surprise for the United States only four years ago should be a sobering realization for all of us.”

While the United States should discover new methods to gather data because it reduces its army footprint—fewer boots on the bottom will inherently imply fewer alternatives for recruiting sources and gathering human intelligence (HUMINT)—probably the most urgent want is just not for assortment however for information administration. As Russell Travers defined when he headed NCTC, “If we’re going to get the intelligence right, we need to get the electrons right. Data is everything: whether looking for strategic trends, or conducting tactical level analysis associated with individuals and networks; data is the lifeblood of the CT community.” Put one other manner, “the data challenges we face are extraordinarily complex, particularly when we’re dealing with information that is invariably incomplete, generally ambiguous, and often wrong.” And the quantity of knowledge is overwhelming: as of late 2019, NCTC handled a median of 300 threats to U.S. embassies and consulates 12 months and dealt with greater than 10,000 incoming terrorism-related stories a day. Those stories included some 16,000 names to be handled day by day.

To sustain the tempo of digital information, the intelligence group desperately wants funding in synthetic intelligence and machine studying capabilities, which in flip requires important funding in expertise infrastructure to help such techniques. It will even require targeted efforts to enlist individuals with AI ability units. Here, the ultimate report of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence deserves a lot of consideration. As the report notes, AI is very properly-suited to assist with forecasting: “AI will help intelligence professionals find needles in haystacks, connect the dots, and disrupt dangerous plots by discerning trends and discovering previously hidden or masked indications and warnings. AI-enabled capabilities will improve every stage of the intelligence cycle from tasking through collection, processing, exploitation, analysis, and dissemination.” Data administration doesn’t excite policymakers, however, it’s vital to counterterrorism. As the AI Commission famous in its 2019 interim report, “the government is well-positioned to collect useful information from its worldwide network of sensors. But much of that data is unlabeled, hidden in various silos across disparate networks, or inaccessible to the government…Even more data is simply expelled as ‘exhaust’ because it is not deemed to be immediately relevant.”

Budgetary Jujitsu Demands Top-Down Direction:

To make all this work, the counterterrorism enterprise wants important top-down courses and strategic planning. The budgetary gymnastics wanted to allow rationalization of the counterterrorism mission set will likely be painful, and won’t occur if departments and businesses are requested properly. “We are a Government of Departmental Sovereignty—the way we’re designed, the way money is appropriated, and the way Congressional oversight works,” Travers famous. Twenty years after 9/11, the United States dangers making vital administration errors over again. As the 9/11 Commission Report lamented: “It is hard to break down stovepipes where there are so many stoves that are legally and politically entitled to have cast-iron pipes of their own.” To tackle this drawback, the 9/11 Commission referred to as for the institution of a nationwide counterterrorism heart, however, as soon as based, NCTC was given authority solely to coordinate and convene, to not compel cooperation.

Integrating technique and energy throughout departments and businesses are meant to occur on the National Security Council, however going again to the Obama administration and thru the Trump administration, Travers famous, “there’s been a degree of downsizing and deemphasizing National Security Council integration.” That should change for the form of budgetary realignment essential to make a counterterrorism rationalization potential. As one official defined,

The manner the U.S. authorities works is that budgets are divided up by departments and businesses and by bins and allocations for particular priorities, like counterterrorism. What we now must do is locate methods to cross-pollinate funding for these intelligence group capabilities so we are able to tackle a number of priorities and drawback units. Doing this can require bureaucratic and budgeting jujitsu as we implement modifications that can have actual world near- to mid-term impacts on massive budgets.

Another space place the White House might play a hands-on function and direct the interagency towards better integration and fewer redundancy can be by the NCTC’s Directorate for Strategic and Operational Planning (DSOP). When empowered, DSOP has performed a vital function in serving departments and businesses to measure and consider counterterrorism efforts, determine gaps, and assess threats. It may also play an interagency coordination function on in-the-weeds however vital points like watch-listing and screening or different low-visibility points that, left uncoordinated, threaten to result in strategic failures. Although the development lately has been to undervalue this directorate, “the DSOP model could provide a mechanism for the government to get beyond departmental stovepipes; but that would require a willingness to invest in the greater good—consciously thinking beyond narrow departmental and agency equities.”

In a period of monetary austerity, strategic planning for U.S. nationwide safety can be higher conceptualized as a Venn diagram highlighting areas of overlap, not an array of parallel silos. Intelligence capabilities must be built-in into a nationwide safety enterprise such that they are often drawn upon to help a number of mission units, from Russia or China to Iran or North Korea, to counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and public well-being. Doing so, nevertheless, requires White House course and congressional bipartisanship to tackle ingrained bureaucratic habits and territoriality, particularly in terms of financial allocations for counterterrorism. For instance, departments and businesses must be required to determine areas of mission overlap, although that’s not how they sometimes function or how they’re funded and construct their budgets. The purpose has to be to align departments’ budgets and priorities in order that they optimize counterterrorism and different sources.

After twenty years of investing in beautiful and distinctive counterterrorism instruments, America now dangers falling behind the occasions by advantage of permitting instruments to direct technique. Seeking to keep away from this basic disconnect between ends and means, policymakers on either side of the political aisle are urgent for rationalization of American’s counterterrorism posture worldwide.  Making this occur will demand that the White House urgently oversee and direct the mandatory budgetary overview to disentangle counterterrorism intelligence budgets from the kinetic army budgets on which they’re presently grafted.

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