U.S. Intelligence efforts
Stephen E. Herbits is an American businessman, former consultant to several Secretaries and Deputy Secretaries of Defense, executive vice president and corporate officer of the Seagram Company, advisor to the President's Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets, and secretary general of the World Jewish Congress. He was the youngest person to be appointed commissioner on the Gates Commission. Herbits' career has specialized in "fixing" institutions – governmental, business, and not-for-profit – with strategic planning and management consulting.
Three recent events converge to remind us of the importance of U.S. Intelligence operations. It is past time the public became engaged in a discussion of the risks of our own electronic behavior and government’s historic failures.
The most prominent is, of course, our former President’s abuse of and failure to protect the U.S. and its foreign supplied intelligence. The second is the recently published and thoroughly brilliant book by Calder Walton, “Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West.” The most recent is the July 3rd New York Times article: “Cracking Down on Dissent, Russia Seeds a Surveillance Supply Chain.”
Familiarity with the existential issue we face comes, in part, from the indictment of our former President for his uncontrolled and irresponsible behavior with classified documents while in office and after his departure. We don’t have to wait for a jury decision that may be months, if not years, ahead to know what he did was criminally negligent… or worse.
But why did he do it?
His repeated displays of disregard certainly weren’t done because he was smart. Even our enemies thought his carelessness was risky and stupid, not to mention the problems his behavior created for critical intelligence we need from our allies.
He certainly didn’t use our classified intelligence to negotiate. What has he negotiated? It is important to recall that even as a businessman, he didn’t negotiate. He simply paid his development contractors less than he owed them (or didn’t pay them at all), forcing hundreds, if not thousands of lawsuits. What international organizations did his rare appearances reveal his personal negotiations to benefit the U.S. and the free world? The absence is startling. His foreign policy was the destruction of several multinational organizations.
It is obvious that there is only one criteria Trump uses to make decisions: his ego. His flashing classified documents about and boasting about it proves this. And we’ll certainly be able to conclude that with hard evidence from his upcoming trials.
But the U.S. can’t wait until then. A public discussion, not about the contents of classified information, nor about Trump personally, but about the processes of handling classified information is necessary to protect our national security in the modern era… are long overdue. Here are ten thoughts to be considered in that public discussion that might then lead to Congressional action:
1. Screen candidates for relevant elective positions. That is something the American Bar Association doesn’t even do competently for our Federal judges and Justices.
2. Withhold highly sensitive material from anyone who abuses the classification system, including a president, unless particular highly sensitive information is needed for his specific approval for operational purposes.
3. Screen the Group of 8, the Chairman and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee and restrict that information from any of them that cannot pass a very tight investigation, and if abused even once, deny any further information regardless of their titles.
4. Any office holder – elected or not – found to have abused the system should be moved to positions with no capability of access to such information. In the case of a president committing such acts, classified information should become the responsibility of the vice president.
5. Modernize clearance processes to eliminate the vast backlog. The exact number of temporary clearances awaiting full review is likely to be in the hundreds of thousands (at least it was in the early 2000s) given that the requirement also applies to certain private sector companies doing business with the U.S. government.
6. Test the system by providing designed false information to various holders of classified information to test the efficacy of systems.
7. Sharply increase the compartmentalization of information.
8. Change counter-espionage efforts, leaving officials in that process for short times only. History tells us that the greatest harm has been done by some who have been in their jobs for long periods, including in the counterintelligence offices. Enhance counter-espionage efforts with the requirement that copies of all tax returns for those with access to classified information be provided to the a proposed newly expanded counter-intelligence group, who can then selectively examine lifestyle expenditures for random individuals. Additionally, It would be wise to create a second all-government counterintelligence office. Competition between or among them will enhance our security.
9. Sharply increase enforcement and penalties.
10. Provide the FISA Court (The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that now has responsibility for issuing classified warrants), the ability to hold trials with access to classified information and adjust the legal processes to include evidence requirements and punishment related not only to the level of classification, but the assessment of damage done.