Tag Archives: Counterterrorism

Strategic Operational Planning and Congressional Oversight of Intelligence

By Sally Scudder, Center for Strategic Research

US Capitol

When President Bush signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA), he called it “the most dramatic reform of our nation’s intelligence capabilities since President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947.   Under this law, our vast intelligence enterprise will be more unified, coordinated, and effective.”[i]  To this specific end, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) officially took over as the nation’s lead in the counterterrorism effort.  Yet IRTPA’s passage didn’t mean the national security structure in Washington was going to change instantaneously and NCTC would be given complete charge of interagency counterterrorism efforts.   While blame of ineffectualness could be laid on interagency turf battles, perhaps the most responsible party is Congress and, as the 9/11 Commission calls it, their “dysfunctional”[ii] oversight of intelligence, which is “always dependent on newspaper headlines.”[iii]

The release of the 9/11 Commission Report demanded action, and with the 2004 elections looming, congressional members across the aisle were quick to endorse it, including presidential candidate John Kerry, forcing President Bush to follow suit. [iv]  Though it had also publicly endorsed the Commission, the Bush Administration had been loath to call it into existence, citing “sensitive information” as a reason to withhold hearings from the public eye.[v]   After the Report was published and public pressure started to build, Bush attempted to go around the recommendations while showing his commitment to reforming the national security structure by issuing a multiple executive orders and memos on the subject.  In reality, many of his orders “did little more that reaffirm the system as it existed” or simply pandered to “established bureaucratic interests.”[vi]  Among the executive orders issued was EO 13354, which created the National Counterterrorism Center as an update of the Threat Integration and Intelligence Center.  Bush outlined the NCTC’s functions as a center for the analysis and integration of intelligence; coordination of strategic operational planning; assigning operational responsibilities to agencies; serving as a shared knowledge bank; and ensuring agencies have appropriate access to intelligence.

Congress was also mindful of public perception.  Shortly thereafter, they introduced and passed IRTPA in less than ninety days, an exceedingly rare occurrence for the notoriously slow-moving bill passage process.  For such a sweeping and purportedly “revolutionary”[vii]  new organization, Congress didn’t add, subtract, or clarify NCTC’s functions, keeping the language identical to EO 13354.[viii]  Specifically, Congress didn’t challenge or define the vague and contrary concept of “strategic operational planning,” which was the mandate of the newly created Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning (DSOP) within the NCTC, leaving it open to interagency interpretation and contention.  Reportedly, members “didn’t know [what strategic operational planning was], just wanted enough words for [someone else] to figure it out.”[ix]  Though the rhetoric surrounding NCTC’s creation promised a “unified, coordinated and effective” streamlining of stovepiped efforts, Congress did not consolidate a single intelligence agency; they simply added to the already intricate intelligence community’s roles and reporting structure.[x]  If Congress did not fully flesh out and institute intelligence reform when public demand was at its peak and funding for intelligence programs had exponentially increased, what would drive them to keep an eye on NCTC’s efforts now, especially the “less than glamorous”[xi] planning side?

The Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning is supposed to be the mechanism for government-wide strategic operational planning and is half of NCTC’s mission, yet oversight is negligible.  The seeming importance of DSOP has been highlighted in testimony by NCTC leadership, yet relatively unchallenged by Congress in hearings.  In his statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as nominee for the Director of the NCTC, Adm. John Scott Redd called strategic operational planning “substantial, daunting and, I believe, very necessary.”[xii]  Through the years, SOP has been called “truly revolutionary”[xiii] as the government has “come together in ways…never seen during…decades of government service.”[xiv]  Despite caveats of strategic operational planning as “new to the US government,” [xv]SOP was called “foundational”[xvi] to counterterrorism efforts.  Succeeding NCTC Director Michael Leiter said he was “more convinced than ever that success against terrorism will only come through such coordinated and synchronized efforts—to include the full weight of our diplomatic, financial, military, intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement activities.” [xvii]  For such weighty importance, however, Congress hardly paid attention to DSOP.  The most questioning DSOP received was after the publication of the National Implementation Plan, which was supposed to discreetly task the interagency on counterterrorism efforts.  There were eight questions regarding NIP and all came from Representative Sanchez, who was frustrated at Congress’s lack of access to the document. [xviii]

It wasn’t until the attempted bombing of Flight 253 and the Fort Hood shootings in late 2009 that NCTC was put under Congress’s microscope as echoes of a ‘failure to connect the dots’ reverberated back into the public rhetoric. Though the sharpest scrutiny was directed at the intelligence side of NCTC, there were questions on DSOP’s roles and responsibilities, to which the answer seemed to be “I do not think the legislation gave clear authority— in fact, it did not give us clear authority to direct action, so we have become a negotiator and mediator of sorts rather than director of action.”[xix]  Suddenly the attitude was seemingly back to “we’re building the airplane at NCTC even as we are being asked to fly it.”[xx]  Though there were questions surrounding strategic operational planning and testimony from outside experts blasting DSOP’s failings,[xxi] there have still been no bills proposed or executive orders given to clarify DSOP’s operation.

NCTC is supposed to be the all-government approach to counterterrorism with the Directorate of Intelligence ‘connecting all of the intelligence dots’ and DSOP serving as the ‘connective tissue’ for the US government’s counterterrorism plans.  Unfortunately, without proper congressional oversight and a clear definition of strategic operational planning, DSOP’s mandate is difficult to enforce across the competing interagency.  Ordinarily, intelligence reform is characterized as moving an “aircraft carrier down a creek,” [xxii] and DSOP as a “less than glamorous”[xxiii] organization does not hold the attention of its overseers enough to ensure accountability or create a comprehensive government counterterrorism plan.

Sally Scudder is a research assistant with the Center for Strategic Research.  The views expressed are her own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government. 


[i] George W. Bush, “President Signs Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act,” Washington, D.C., December 17, 2004, available at <http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2004/12/20041217-1.html&gt;.

[ii] The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (New York: Norton, 2004). 420.

[iii] Cynthia M. Nolan, “More Perfect Oversight: Intelligence Oversight and Reform.” Strategic Intelligence: Intelligence and Accountability: Safeguards Against the Abuse of Secret Power 5 (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2007), 115-140. 129.

[iv] Glenn Hastedt, “Washington Politics, Intelligence, and the Struggle Against Global Terrorism,” Strategic Intelligence: Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism: Defending the Nation Against Hostile Forces 4 (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2007). 100-25. 103.

[v] Pete Brush, “Bush Opposes 9/11 Query Panel,” CBS News, 11 February, 2009, available at <http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500164_162-509096.html&gt;.

[vi] Glenn Hastedt, “Washington Politics, Intelligence, and the Struggle Against Global Terrorism,” Strategic Intelligence: Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism: Defending the Nation Against Hostile Forces 4 (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2007), 100-25. 108.

[vii] Hearing Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Counterterrorism: The Changing Face of Terror, June 13, 2006.

[viii]Todd Masse, “The National Counterterrorism Center: Implementation Challenges and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, (2005).

[ix] Interview, 26 April 12.

[x] Glenn Hastedt, “Washington Politics, Intelligence, and the Struggle Against Global Terrorism,” Strategic Intelligence: Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism: Defending the Nation Against Hostile Forces 4 (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2007), 100-125. 106.

[xi]Hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland: Six Years After 9/11, September 10, 2007.

[xii] Hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate: Nomination of Vice Admiral John Scott Redd to Be Director, National Counterterrorism Center, July 21, 2005.

[xiii] Hearing Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Counterterrorism: The Changing Face of Terror, June 13, 2006.

[xiv] Hearing Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Counterterrorism: The Changing Face of Terror, June 13, 2006.

[xv] Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Nine Years After 9/11: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland, September 10, 2007.

[xvi] Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Nine Years After 9/11: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland, September 10, 2007.

[xvii] Hearing Before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate: Nomination of Michael Leiter to Be Director, National Counterterrorism Center, May 6, 2008.

[xviii] Hearing of the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism of the Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives: Homeland Security Beyond Our Borders: Examining the Status of Counterterrorism Coordination Overseas, October 4, 2007.

[xix] Hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Intelligence Reform—2010, January, 2010.

[xx] Hearing of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Counterterrorism: The Changing Face of Terror, June 13, 2006.

[xxi]Hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Intelligence Reform—2010: The Lessons and Implications of the Christmas Day Attack: Intelligence Reform and Interagency Integration, March 17, 2010.

[xxii] Cynthia M. Nolan, “More Perfect Oversight: Intelligence Oversight and Reform.” Strategic Intelligence: Intelligence and Accountability: Safeguards Against the Abuse of Secret Power 5 (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2007), 115-40. 131.

[xxiii]Hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland: Six Years After 9/11, September 10, 2007.

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The Commonwealth Games, Terrorism and Major State War

 By Dr. Thomas F. Lynch III, Center for Strategic Research

Taj Mahal in New Delhi, India

Taj Mahal

When does an international sporting event double as a highly plausible prelude to major state war?  When the event is in India, when Islamic radicals in Pakistan have declared the event a coveted target for terrorism, and when already high tensions between India and Pakistan have risen precipitously over the course of a long, hot and exceedingly wet summer.  Welcome to the 2010 Commonwealth Games – beginning in New Delhi, India on October 3rd!

Despite their obscurity in America, the Commonwealth Games are truly a major international sporting spectacle. They are the fourth largest quadrennial sporting event in the world, behind only the Summer Olympics, the Soccer World Cup, and the Asian Games.  More than 4000 world class athletes along with tens of thousands of supporters and spectators from 54 countries that once comprised the British Empire  will compete in a mixture of seventeen summer Olympic sports and several ‘uniquely British’ sporting events.  The Games of 2010, held in New Delhi from October 3-14, are the first event of such magnitude hosted on the Indian subcontinent; and, more critically, in a nuclear armed state on high alert against its nuclear armed neighbor. 

Those now gathering in New Delhi, therefore, are at grave risk.

The risk of a terrorist strike at the 2010 Commonwealth Games is real, and has metastasized severely over the past few months.  Militant Islamist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayibbah (LeT) of Pakistan and Indian Mujihaddin (IM) in India have promised an attack of the Commonwealth Games for some time.  Last February, longtime LeT leader Ilyas Kashmiri  (now believed hole-up in western Pakistan’s tribal areas) threatened the Games with a dramatic strike.   The violence between Indian paramilitary units and Muslim youth in Kashmir that has killed more than 60 young Muslim protesters and injured hundreds of others over the course of the summer has fed a stream of anti-Indian propaganda in Kashmir and across Pakistan.  Passionate editorials in Pakistani newspapers and Friday sermons from many Deobondi Muslim mosques cry out for retaliation against India for taking innocent Muslim lives, inspiring young Pakistani radicals to volunteer for the attacks promised by Ilyas Kashmiri and championed by many more extremist groups.  Ominously, the massive civil relief effort demanded from the Pakistan military and intelligence agencies since the beginning of historic flooding in August has diverted resources and constrained resolve to closely monitor, much less effectively disrupt, covert preparations for a terrorist strike against the Commonwealth Games just as such preparations are likely to be culminating.    

Despite massive security preparations by an Indian anti-terrorism paramilitary and police establishment believed competent in many ways, but stung deeply by the carnage of Mumbai in 2008, the prospect for a catastrophe attack of these Commonwealth Games looms large.  On September 16, India’s indigenous IM movement took credit for the terrorist attack by two men on a motorbike that opened fire injuring two Taiwanese journalists in front of the Jama Masjid Mosque in New Delhi.  Should India’s security preparations fail and a strike against the Commonwealth Games traceable to Pakistan occur, historic Indian restraint would be at risk.  India has staked huge national pride in these Games, and the blow from a successful Islamist terror strike would be enormous.  Legendary Indian restraint – exercised in 2002 after the Islamist terror attack in the New Delhi parliament and after the 2008 Mumbai attacks – would be at risk.   Indian frustration with Pakistan’s ongoing failure to make good on its promise to successfully prosecute even one conspirator in the Mumbai attacks would amplify almost certain nation-wide cries to retaliate against Pakistan for its history of terror group support.   Groups from across India’s political spectrum would view any Indian retaliatory strike – even a limited conventional one against selected Pakistani targets – as overdue; and, the specter of uncontrollable escalation in retaliatory strikes between two nuclear armed neighbors could fall quickly into place.

Where does this leave outside observers, to include American policymakers?  Given that India’s security preparations are complete, and Delhi’s historic aversion to outside assistance in matters of its security business has minimized external involvement – without many options.  However, there are a couple of political and information-sharing actions that might help avert a worst-case scenario.   President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Hu Jintao should each call Prime Minister Singh to extend best wishes for a successful Commonwealth Games and to pre-commit the rapid deployment of any resources the Indian government might need in the event of a tragedy.  They should also call Pakistani President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to remind them – and Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment – that any terrorism activity against the Commonwealth Games traceable to Pakistan is hugely unacceptable; and, that Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment should immediately and completely share information of potential plots with the Indians directly – or through western interlocutors – in a timely manner that foils terrorist plans before they can occur in Delhi .   These steps taken, those of us from nations without athletes in the 2010 Commonwealth Games need beware and keep our fingers crossed.    A most dangerous moment is at hand, but a positive outcome can yet be written.

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Indonesian CT Success Story

by Jake Tremblay, Research Intern to Senior Fellow Dr. Lew Stern

Over the past 7 years Densus 88, the Indonesian anti-terrorist task force formed in response to the Bali bombings in 2002, has made incredible strides in policing and has become a prime example of international counterterrorism cooperation. Densus 88, with U.S. training and equipment assistance, has essentially dismantled Jemaah Islamiyah, the terrorist organization responsible for the Bali nightclub bombings in 2002 and 2005, as well as that of Noordin Top’s splinter group which perpetrated the terrorist acts against the Marriot and Ritz-Carlton Jakarta in 2009. Additionally, a Densus 88 operation policed up Mohammed Jibril Abdurahman, the financier of the last year’s hotel bombings who, on 28 June, was sentenced to 5 years in jail. This is the most recent victory for both the U.S. Government and Indonesian police force in the fight against extremism. It follows hard on the heels of the arrest of the most wanted terrorist suspect Abdulla Sonata last week. Add to these recent successes the 2009 take down of hotel and nightclub bombing mastermind Noordin Top and you have a story of focused Indonesian resolve to cooperate with friends and allies in the global fight against terrorism. Pressure from Densus 88 stymied terrorist activities for 4 years before quickly eliminating the threat from a man who was #3 on the FBI’s Seeking Information War on Terrorist List. The Indonesian efforts show clearly that direct intelligence sharing and U.S. investment in capacity building programs can have an enormous impact.

In light of the successes achieved through the US-Indonesian strategic security partnership countering the nascent terrorism movement in Indonesia, are there additional countries where the US Government should offer similar assistance?

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