Monthly Archives: July 2010

The DNI: Not an untenable situation

Soon, the United States will have a new Director of National Intelligence and while I wouldn’t want the position myself, it’s a situation that begs the question, “How can we win here – how can we succeed?” I say we as American citizens and taxpayers, but more specifically we as a former member of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) who spent over a year promoting information sharing at Liberty Crossing.

At first glance, the position of DNI (and the office) is a losing battle. A fait accompli. Bottom line: it suffers from a lack of organizational authority over the Intelligence Community, which remains split by the DOD, where the Military Intelligence Program (MIP) (which includes NSA, NRO, NGA – the eyes and ears of the IC) is directed and controlled by the Secretary of Defense. As long intelligence programs continue to be authorized and funded by defense authorization legislation, the authority of the DNI is in theory, not practice. That’s one aspect.

There’s also a little a agency proceeded by The. Technically, the CIA on the IC org chart reports to the DNI. But this hasn’t been the case, mainly because neither the previous POTUS nor the current POTUS has asked it to. While it might be tricky to gauge the success of a “covert” agency, I think the CIA is doing something right. If it wasn’t, the Executive Office would be be favoring the DNI. But it’s not, as seen in the Chief of Station turf battle and the PDB squabble. Perhaps the DNI hasn’t proven it’s value to the Executive Office. Or perhaps it’s simply human nature to favor the team in which you have more confidence when your own ass is on the line.

Regardless of whose ass is on the line, the main question is: how can the DNI succeed? The easy answer is it can when the President wants it to. Until the President says that the DNI is not just the authoritative agency for the intelligence community but his go-to, the DNI destined to fail. At a recent Palantir Night Live with Michael Chertoff (*disclaimer: Palantir is a client), the former Secretary of Homeland Security commented on the DNI’s current state: “You don’t grow a tree by pulling it up by the roots every year.” Or not giving it the environment and elements it needs to succeed.

Yes, I think the odds are stacked against the DNI. But it’s not an untenable situation. There is a way for the DNI to win (aside from legislative reform and a shift in Executive Office backing) and that’s technology: information, data, networks, platforms, tools, search, discovery, integration, visualization, analysis. The Google play.

I don’t know what James Clapper is aiming to do as DNI, but if he can build off the success of Intelink and leverage analytic tools across it, he’ll be far ahead of his predecessors. Forget who is delivering the PDB. Focus on delivering information and tools to the base, the people actually working intelligence issues. Get rid of the “consultants” and by consultants I mean $150-$300/hr professional-services-white-paper-writing managers with no IT/computer background whose firms front-load their contracts with grandiose promises and hefty price tags. Hire engineers. Hire folks like Jeff Jonas and enlist forward-leaning minds like Michele Weslander Quaid. And let the engineers sell whatever great innovations they come up with on the government’s dime back to the government. Offer a progressive working environment that looks less like a depressing status quo industrial-style grey cube farm and more like Starbucks so 20-somethings who grew up with laptops and coffee shops don’t feel like they’ve entered a sick time-warp joke.

No solution is ever simple. There’s always politics and posturing, like battles over where networks and applications reside and who should be paying for what. And the IC network terrain isn’t that same as the open internet. And offering IT solutions isn’t specifically DNI’s charter. But the network is power. Information is power. Access to information is power. If the DNI can continue to dig in the direction of presenting IT solutions to the issue of knowledge sharing in a siloed world where key knowledge holders are resistant to share beyond their agency walls, it can wield a swift undercurrent of power in the IC. Some agencies and players might buck against this but open source information coupled with a composite of inter-IC sources can threaten any individual agency’s no-play strategy.

If Clapper’s relationship is as strong as Gates makes it out to be, he can take advantage of two key opportunities for the IC: geo-location and the mobile web (which are big plays for NRO, NGA and NSA). In an increasingly geo-located world, location is where it’s at. And in an ever-growing mobile web environment, the trend of using text over voice communications could become a big opportunity for the IC for leveraging effective written language translation services.

I’m not naive or ignorant to the challenges of offering IT solutions in a highly bureaucratic world. Even if the “If you build it, they will come” mantra holds true, it certainly doesn’t mean people will play and stay. However, until the IC operates like the internet (opening agency doors and channels to data and information), I think the DNI is necessary to make sure one agency’s mission or agenda doesn’t undermine the success of the entire community and offering community IT solutions is the best play.

The Difference between Success and Failure is Will

Sometimes in life you don’t realize the impact of a person or event until you have the experience and perspective to understand it’s uniqueness. Few people stand out in my mind as having a positively illuminating impact on my life – I mean truly shine, like a lighthouse in the middle of a vast, dark ocean – and Sue Behringer is one those people.

Sue recently retired after 20 years of serving as Assistant Coach for the Severna Park Varsity Women’s Field Hockey team. Severna Park Field Hockey holds the state record for most State Championships, is the toughest team at the school to make, and it’s head coach, Lillian Shelton, is responsible for bringing the sport of field hockey to Anne Arundel county in 1975 when she created Severna Park’s team, then subsequently led the expansion of the sport throughout county.

Before my first year of high school, I had no substantive knowledge of or experience playing field hockey, even though I grew up a jock. Once I arrived, I quickly learned that field hockey was the most prestigious sport to play. It wasn’t football, it wasn’t basketball, it wasn’t baseball. The field hockey team’s level of success and excellence was unparalleled.

For my freshman spring semester gym class, I had the good fortune of having Coach Shelton as my gym teacher. During the indoor field hockey portion of class, Coach Shelton pulled me aside and asked if I had ever played. When I told her no, she convinced me to come out for the junior varsity team in the Fall. Which I did. And I made.

The JV team was headed up by an All-American Division I Field Hockey and Lacrosse player. While she and Coach Shelton had their differences, I flourished under Coach Petersen’s coaching and ended the year as the team’s leading scorer.

If I wasn’t a favorite of Coach Petersen’s, I certainly felt and played like I was. Getting the ball in the net seemed like the easiest thing for me to do. Until the next year when I moved up to varsity the next year. On varsity, I was not a favorite of Coach Shelton’s. As a junior I didn’t start and spent more time on the bench than on the field. I learned to accept this but my senior year, when I wasn’t selected as part of the starting line-up, it got to me. It affected my entire game-time playing ability. There were circumstances outside of just me that impacted my game performances, but I think the biggest factor was inside my head. Things I did in practice I could rarely repeat in games and it got progressively worse. The entire regular season passed by and I only scored a handful of goals. I remember one game against a relatively easy team where the ball was right in front of my stick, in front of the goal, and I didn’t move. It was like my natural instinct to score had all but vanished.

So there I was sitting on the sideline of a scoreless game at the quarterfinals when a time-out was called with only a few minutes on the clock. Coach Behringer pulled me aside and before sending me in, said:

“You’re going to score.”

“I want to,” I replied.

“Not want to. You will.”


Thirty seconds later, I knocked the ball in the goal, and it made a loud, thunderous clang that rang up into the bleachers.  The goal sent our team in the semi-finals. The newspaper write-up of the game didn’t do Coach Behringer justice. She knew I could score. I had stopped believing it much earlier on in the season.

I went on to do it again in the semi-finals, only in that game we were down 1-0. I scored with less than 10 minutes on the clock to tie it up and my teammate scored to send us to the State Championships.

In the state championship game, with 3 minutes left, we were down 1-0 but a teammate scored a goal to tie it up which sent us into overtime. But neither team could score. As the time on the clock was winding down to less than 2 minutes, our team was awarded a penalty stroke. Without even looking at the sideline for a cue from the coaches, I walked up to take it. I had no doubts, no nervousness, no awareness of all the people anxiously watching me. It was just me, the ball, and the goal.

I sent the ball sailing into the net. It won the game and won us the championship. But that goal started with the words ‘you will.’ There’s a big difference between saying you want to achieve something and saying you will achieve it.

I don’t know what would have happened if Sue hadn’t had that talk with me on the sideline before sending me in. Maybe I would have scored. Maybe not. I do know this: the people who don’t believe, who don’t give and show support, who don’t have faith, who don’t say ‘you will’ – they’re a dime a dozen in this world. The Sue Behringers of the world, however, are the reason championships are won, dynasties are built, and masterpieces are created.

They say in sports, it’s all in your head. It’s true in sports and it’s true in life. The outcome of every endeavor is determined before any action is ever taken. Thanks, Sue, for teaching me one of the most valuable lessons of success and life.