For thirty years Robert David Steele has been a proponent for intelligence reform. During all that time he has been silenced – marginalized – by the Deep State.
In 1988 Steele was the architect and senior civilian responsible for creating the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA). A former spy as well as a former Marine Corps intelligence officer, he did two things no one had done before: created a strategic analytic model justifying a 450-ship Navy; and determined that 80% or more of all military needs for intelligence were not being met by the secret intelligence community and could be quickly and inexpensively addressed with what he called Open Source Intelligence (OSINT).
He was ignored.
In 1989 he ghost-wrote “Global Intelligence Challenges of the 1990’s,” for then Commandant of the Marine Corps Al Gray, as published in the American Intelligence Journal.
The article called for a re-direction of the US Intelligence Community away from its obsession with a few hard targets and toward emerging threats and non-state actors; and away from its obsession with secret technical collection and toward open and human sources.
He – and the Commandant – were ignored.
In the Fall of 1992 he wrote the first article on intelligence transformation, “E3i: Ethics, Ecology, Evolution, & Intelligence,” as published in Whole Earth Review. Sandra Cruzman, his former boss and the senior female at the Central Intelligence Agency, told the person who gave her the article, “This confirms Steele’s place on the lunatic fringe.”
In December 1992 he sponsored the first international conference on OSINT. He was not ignored, he was told never to do that again. So he resigned and kept going.
In 1993 he introduced the National Security Agency (NSA) to hackers, In 1994 he was the opening speaker at Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE) and wrote the first warning letter to the White House on the need to spend $1 billion a year (in 1994 dollars) on cyber-security. The letter was co-signed anonymously by NSA’s top computer security engineer.
He (and his co-signers) were ignored.
Instead of securing US communications and computing capabilities, NSA set about – with the explicit complicity of the CEO’s of Dell, HP, IBM and others –AT&T, Google, and Microsoft would be documented later – to install back doors of convenience. According to Steele, NSA gutted what little security was already in existence, and spawned the Chinese and Russian hacking industry.
In 1997 General Peter Schoomaker, then Commander in Chief of the US Special Operations Command (CINCSOC) called him in for a briefing and immediately directed the creation of the J-26, the first OSINT branch in the US military. Within a year, that unit was answering 40% of all Special Operations intelligence requirements world-wide, with 22 people and $5 million in out-sourcing to individual subject matter experts.
When General Schoomaker departed SOCOM, the Establishment swept in, closed the unit down, and CIA forbade all military intelligence elements from doing “active OSINT” (talking to humans). Only “passive OSINT” – document exploitation then, social media monitoring now – was allowed.
It can be said – and Steele says it often – that NSA gutted US communications and computing security for its own convenience, while CIA destroyed the promise of OSINT out of fear – the fear that one day a President such as Donald Trump might understand that spies and lies are not worth what we pay for them, while OSINT can answer 80% or more of all decision-support questions, not just for the President and the national security team, but for every aspect of government across all policy domains from agriculture to water.
Fast forward to today. Steele has published eight books on intelligence reform, two with Forewords from Senators with experience as Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He has testified to Congress, in one instance defeating the entire intelligence community with six phone calls for a benchmarking exercise sponsored by the Aspin-Brown Commission; in another he explained to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan how the real purpose of secrecy is not to protect sources and methods well known to our adversaries, but rather to protect the ability of the secret world to lie to Congress and the President with impunity.
As the Trump Administration is formed – and particularly in light of public comments by both the President and his National Security Advisor about the utility of open sources of information. We asked Steele seven questions. His answers are below.
- You have been a Marine Corps infantry officer, a small business CEO, and both a clandestine case officer – a spy – and a manager of analysts. What is your over-all sense of the Trump Administration and what it might do in the national security arena?
I could not have asked for a better combination than Donald Trump, Rex Tillerson, Jim Mattis, and Mike Flynn. They understand what I have been saying for 30 years – that we need to migrate away from spies telling lies (or doing mass surveillance on our own public) and toward open source decision-support that helps end elective occupations, gratuitous covert operations and drone assassinations, while favoring peace and prosperity.
OSINT is the only way to achieve Whole of Government decision-support with the added advantage that the Congressional jurisdictions can receive a copy of the same decision-support being provided to the Executive agencies and departments. I just completed a three-monograph series on grand strategy, global reality, and re-inventing national security (for the US Army Strategic Studies Institute), and could not be happier – the Trump team is channeling Ron Paul toward a foreign policy of peace and commerce.
- You recently appeared on RT with Sean Stone, denouncing John Brennan’s claims that the Russians hacked the US election – and you say that you are called “open sores” by Brennan and his people, who want nothing to do with open sources and methods. How do you explain this clash of visions?
The US intelligence community is a spending program, nothing more. It is not held accountable for actually producing decision-support, and does not even have the ability to distinguish between and produce four different forms of decision-support: strategic, policy, operations, and acquisition.
Joe Biden is completely wrong when he calls the secret world a “crown jewel.”
A more accurate description is “flakes of gold dust buried in a very large cow pie.”
CIA has been destroyed by the drone assassination program and before that by the rendition and torture program. It is not trained, equipped, and organized to do what the President and the Cabinet need: collect, process, and analyze all open sources first, then all clandestine human sources needed to supplement open sources, integrate imagery and signals, and deliver actionable decision-support not just to the President, but to every Cabinet official. Intelligence – decision-support – is about answering questions for specific deciders.
Today CIA is more like a classified news agency, about as worthless to the President as the New York Times. My focus, once I realized the secret world provides “at best” 4% of what a major commander needs – that is General Tony Zinni’s number – has been on making the most of open sources and also changing the analytic model so that we do all ten high-level threats to humanity, all twelve core policy domains, all eight major demographics.
Put most simply, Jim Clapper and John Brennan have been about the abuse of secret power and about keeping the money flowing without being held accountable for producing actionable intelligence across the board. I am about providing diversified decision-support to all stakeholders including Congress, at the lowest possible cost, with a minimalist resort to secret sources and methods.
Intelligence should be the heart of evidence-based governance, not a catalog of war crimes.
- Isn’t OSINT just another name for what journalists do? Or information brokers and private investigators? Or academics? Or the Cabinet agencies themselves? Is CIA justified in saying that the customer should do their own “OSINT?”
You touch on my concept of the eight tribes of information – academics, civil society including labor unions and religions, commerce especially small business, government especially local, law enforcement, media, military, and non-government/non-profit. Unlike an information broker’s discovery, investigative journalism, or research that is done by all these tribes, OSINT combines all of their sources and methods into one holistic approach that integrates both the proven process of intelligence, and true cost economics.
While the elements of government do decision memoranda – they are certainly producing decision support all the time – they are working with less than 2% of the relevant information, a problem shared with the secret world. In addition, OSINT is Human Intelligence (HUMINT), not technical intelligence. There are fifteen slices of HUMINT, only four of which are classified. CIA ignores thirteen of the slices and stinks at the last two – clandestine HUMINT and covert operations.
I cannot over-stress the value that the taxpayer and government would receive if we did holistic analytics and true cost economics. In combination, they would help eradicate the 50% waste that is characteristic of all our policy domains from agriculture to energy to health to housing to the military to water; and they would begin our migration toward a new economy where everything is Made in the USA and the cultural and social benefits of keeping our production facilities here are not discounted, as they have been for so long.
The individual cabinet agencies can do their own research, but they are not trained, equipped, and organized to do OSINT – nor do they think strategically, where the whole matters more than an individual agency. The Nordics are starting to realize we need to do better at OSINT, my lecture to them is easily found online at OSINT Done Right. The Cabinet agencies will continue to lie to the President and fight for budget share.
The President needs an Open Source Agency (OSA) such as I have been proposing for twenty years. Such an agency would also support a Trump Channel – a new form of direct democracy that pumps education out and polls citizens on every issue, every line item in every budget.
- Mike Flynn and his co-authors published Fixing Intel in 2010. They made no reference to your prior publications. In 2014 when Flynn was fired, you came to his defense and published On Defense Intelligence: Seven Strikes, which you hand-delivered to Chuck Hagel’s home. Do you have any expectation that Mike Flynn will give you a chance to create the OSA?
The short answer is no. Mike Flynn is now at the pinnacle of power and I believe he will make the same two mistakes that Henry Kissinger made: he will try to over-control the Department of State and Department of Defense – we can already see the push-back from Rex Tillerson and James Mattis – and he will stick with what he knows rather than going for the whole enchilada in the open source domain. He does not know what he does not know. Certainly I would be glad to help him create the OSA and the Trump Channel.
I am hopeful that the Secretaries of State and Defense will see that it is in their own best interests to create the OSA under diplomatic auspices, as a sister agency to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), with non-reimbursable funding from DoD. My memorandum to Joe Biden that was blocked from reaching him can be read online, with graphics.
In its new incarnation, the OSA adds an Innovation Bureau that does Open Source Everything Engineering (OSEE) which solves three problems: it secures US communications and computing with open source security; it supports the migration toward managing defense, development, diplomacy, and commerce (D3C) as a whole; and it creates open source solutions for the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals – solutions that cost 10% to 20% of what the existing proprietary technologies cost.
- Your focus in on creating the OSA. You remain an outspoken critic of the waste and mis-management that you say characterizes the secret world across the board. If you were to be asked, what are the fundamentals of your message to Donald Trump?
I have published a post, Fixing Intel II, that picks up where Mike Flynn left off. It is probably too radical for a first-term administration, but it could be useful as the left hand starting point, with the status quo being the right hand starting point – the Trump team has to think through where they want to be on that continuum.
The primary difference between Mike Flynn’s approach to intelligence and mine is that I think of it as a craft that should enhance every aspect of our democracy – I have published a Philosophy of Intelligence and I am the foremost author on the topic of Applied Collective Intelligence — the integration of education, intelligence, and research, with holistic analytics and true cost economics being the foundation for getting it right.
The three areas where President Trump should focus right away are the electoral reform act; the creation of a Trump Channel and an Open Source Agency; and counterintelligence.
I mention electoral reform because I have realized in the past decade that no issue in Washington will ever get an honest hearing – no matter how good the intelligence – unless we restore integrity to how we make decisions. Without an electoral reform act we will continue to have a two-party tyranny, and the Republican Party will continue to join with the Democratic Party in undermining President Trump at every turn.
The Trump Channel – a combination of outgoing fireside chats on every possible topic and incoming polling accurate to the Congressional district level – would be the President’s bully pulpit and be rooted in an Open Source Agency that can produce unclassified decision-support about every topic – this is about public intelligence in the public interest.
Finally, the President needs to be aggressive about counterintelligence, starting with the realization that Reince Priebus is the Judas within the White House. Priebus’ highest priority in life is the prevention of an electoral reform act that would unrig the system and strip the Republican Party of its short-term but very real power. I also expect the next batch of leaks to destroy the Republicans the way the first batch destroyed the Democrats – the President needs to connect to all of our eligible voters and not be dependent on the Establishment as now led by the Republican Party.
We have at least 500 traitors across the US Government (USG), we need to break the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) down, and then build it back up to the point that it can neutralize all financial, ideological, and religious traitors across the board. Donald Trump has survived a coup attempt – I am among a hand-full of people who persuasively denounced the lies led by John Brennan about the Russians hacking the election – and I hope Donald Trump understands that everyone in this town – particularly the Republican Party leadership – is against him right now.
Unless President Trump includes these three initiatives in his 100-day plan, there is no point to any change in the classified world.
Having said that, I believe we can cut the secret world in half over four years, and make it a hundred times more useful. Generally speaking we need to remove the national intelligence functions from the Department of Defense budget, and restore the CIA as the central intelligence agency with Directorates for Signals and for Imagery intelligence, instead of separate agencies that are easily 80% waste.
I favor eliminating the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the National Geospatial Agency (NGA), folding the 20% of each of those agencies that works into new Directorates at CIA for signals and imagery intelligence, and into the US Geological Survey (USGS) in the case of NGA.
We need to consolidate and radically mature our analysis – we have too many children and retirees going through the motions now; and we need to process much more than the 1% that we process now. From the ashes of what we have now we need to create a National Processing Center (NPC) and a National Analysis Center (NAC), both under CIA oversight.
HUMINT is in the toilet. CIA’s dirty little secret is that all of its clandestine case officers are known to local liaison, it has no unilateral clandestine agents of note, and it receives 90% of what it passes off as clandestine intelligence from foreign liaison or legal traveler debriefings. At the same time, in an effort to protect its HUMINT mandate, CIA has failed for 30 years to be serious about managing all fifteen slides of HUMINT and creating capabilities for ingesting open sources – most of what we need to know is not online, not in English, and not secret.
- Coming back to defense intelligence – there appears to be a conflict between Mike Flynn and James Mattis on who should be the Undersecretary of Intelligence. What are your thoughts on defense intelligence?
First let me say that I hope the President has asked Senator Dan Coats to phase out the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The DNI is a sinecure for thousands of double-dipping retirees, rotationals, and contractors. It produces nothing of value. Like the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) it focuses on budget share and keeping the money moving – often with lies to Congress as part of how it keeps the money moving.
I favor the elimination of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (USD-I). I hope the Secretary of Defense will consider converting that position – and the floorspace associated with that position – into an Undersecretary of Defense for Force Structure (USD-F), and redefine the three service secretaries into Deputy Undersecretaries for Ground, Air, and Sea Forces.
USD-I does not add value. Much of what it does could be done better by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and a reconfigured Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) that is desperately in need of a complete make-over. In my view, if Ash Carter thought USD-I could be managed by an acquisition lawyer of very limited experience, the time has come to eliminate USD-I in favor of USD-F.
The heavy lifting in the next ten years is all about force structure – I am a huge fan of Col Dr. Doug Macgregor, of the Reconnaissance Strike Group (RSG) concept, and I strongly recommend Doug’s latest book, Margin of Victory. Doug’s key point is that battles are won or lost ten years before they take place – our highest priority in my view should be to bring our forces home, close all our overseas bases, end all regime change and drone assassination operations, stop getting into elective wars, and focus on re-inventing defense from the ground up.
In my recent three-monograph series for the US Army Strategic Studies Institute (SSI), I conceptualize a three million soldier Army with no contractors based here within the Continental United States (CONUS); a long-haul Air Force that can deliver that Army at medium to heavy brigade scale anywhere on the planet within days; and a 450-ship Navy.
I totally support the President’s view that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is largely worthless, and I totally support a termination of our funding and hosting of the United Nations (UN).
I would like to see the Secretaries of Defense and State form a working group that pools all taxpayer funds now going to subsidize foreign militaries and the totally dysfunctional international organizations, and devise a new approach to D3C that emphasizes joint multinational intelligence centers and information-sharing networks, that in turn support a full court press on OSEE. For example, we should be developing open source energy and water desalination plants to be put all along the Texas coastline, and after we take care of America First, export that open source technology to Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere.
In 1989 – I was his ghost-writer – General Al Gray, then Commandant of the Marine Corps, called for a redirection of national intelligence such that it could support the case for “peaceful preventive measures.”
I am quite certain that we need to transfer $150 billion a year from Program 50 (Military) to Program 150 (International Affairs) but that should not happen unless we also create an Open Source Agency that can help guide the direct delivery of that money to the village level, by-passing the quasi-criminal network of international and non-governmental organizations that waste 80-90% of the development funds on their own salaries and expenses.
- What have we missed? What one thing would you like to see the Secretary of Defense pay attention to other than defense intelligence?
Grand Strategy. We don’t do it and what we offer up as a national military strategy has been so pathetic in the past that they are now classifying it to avoid the scorn and derision that greeted the last one – dishonest platitudes.
I tried to reach Donald Trump to propose a Grand Strategy Summit to be convened prior to his selection of his Cabinet and prior to Inauguration Day, but I was not successful. The USA is out of balance – we have lost our integrity across all institutions – academics, the media, and the government are particularly unhelpful toward what should be our shared goal: peace and prosperity for all rather than war and waste that benefits the few.
No one since President Ike Eisenhower has ever attempted an official honest, comprehensive, and coherent formulation of a grand strategy that balances ends, means, and ways for all government functions, not only in the national security arena, where the military is consuming 60% of the disposable budget in 2015, but across the domestic front as well.
The grand strategy I have devised as a starting point for a presidential conversation only covers the national security front. It makes specific recommendations for changes in the White House & Congress; Intelligence & Covert Actions; Diplomacy & Development; and the Army, Air Force, Navy, & Marines.
Changes are proposed at each of four levels – strategic, operational, tactical, and technical.
Among the highlights are the closure of all bases overseas and an end to all covert actions including regime change and drone assassination operations; and the creation, over the next ten years, of a 3 million soldier Army with no contractors and a new tracked armor Reconnaissance Strike Group (RSG) as the backbone of the US Army – the Marines can handle the permissive environments and wheeled operations; a long-haul Air Force; and a 450-ship Navy that can put fires and Marines on any target within 24 hours (today the few big ships we have are 4 to 6 days away from anywhere).
The new Secretary of Defense is one of America’s most deeply read and serious strategic thinkers. The new Secretary of State is one of America’s most successful business leaders across both urban and rural operations. As soon as possible, I believe they should ask President Trump to commission a Grand Strategy Summit that addresses domestic and foreign policies, practices, and budgets, as a whole.
The new Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is committed to a balanced budget with no borrowing – with such a Summit as a foundation, I believe we can rapidly eradicate the 30-50% waste that now characterizes the USG; we can rebuild our military here at home; we can execute peaceful development measures to stabilize those areas now exporting millions of illegal immigrants, and we can focus on what should have been our priority all these years: the full employment of every citizen.