General Mike Flynn would prioritise 'partnerships and interoperability'
As of today, Lt. Gen (Rtd) Michael T. Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is being rumoured for a potential cabinet position under the newly elected Trump Administration.
Once a lifelong Democrat, Flynn became one of the loudest voices on the GOP campaign trail for Donald Trump, levelling heavy criticism at President Obama and the leadership decisions made during his time in office, going as far as to challenge the standing narrative in 2014 that Islamist fundamentalism was on the way out following the death of Osama Bin Laden.
Four years earlier, he had cemented his reputation for shaking things up by writing a thinktank report that came down hard on the U.S. intelligence approach in Afghanistan, recommending “sweeping changes to the way the intelligence community thinks about itself.” The report claimed that after nearly a decade of war in Afghanistan, U.S. forces still demonstrated little understanding of the country in which they were operating.
While Flynn infers that his disruptive opinions on Obama’s strategy was the cause of his exit, others believe that his plans to beef up the DIA into an intelligence agency to rival the CIA ruffled too many feathers, with concerns arising over projected costs and requirements. Whatever the core divide, there seems no doubt that the general had been openly determined to go against the grain.
However, in his last year of office – just weeks before his retirement, I spoke with Flynn at the ISR and C2 Battle Management forum in London, UK, where the spy chief was delivering a highly anticipated brief on the future of defence intelligence and the recent achievements made stateside in front of representatives from NATO and other international partners. In a quiet corridor, as his security team prepared his vehicle to whisk him back to an undisclosed location, I asked him why he had made special time in his schedule to come to London.
He replied that “the importance of partners, partnerships, interoperability, independence – particularly as it relates to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, today and in the future – is probably one of the most important lessons that we can take away from the last decade on the planet, especially as we look to future operations that I know we are bound to be in.
“We’re operating in a C5 environment, and that extra ‘C’ stands for ‘coalition’. We’ve had to change our mind-set to put that factor before ‘command’. Deepening our mutual trust is a big deal. I really believe that our alliances are our force multipliers.”
Consistently, Flynn also expressed an admiration of his country’s intelligence apparatus, while lamenting how it was being employed, saying: “The United States’ strategic advantage is our intelligence system. It is unbelievable. It is unprecedented for any time in history. But it’s only as good as in as far as it’s prioritised. Right now it’s over-stretched.”
As the media speculates on whether Flynn may soon take up the office of defense secretary or national security adviser, it is a safe bet to assume that he will – as ever – do his utmost to ‘change’ the path of the intelligence community and its approach to military operations. And yet, to take him at his word, disruption will not mean division. Indeed, there is evidence in his statement to suggest that he will lead a new drive to bind allies to fresh agreements and ensure the campaigns of tomorrow will be conducted from the same hymn sheet – if not with the same equipment, resources, methods and long-term strategic goals.
Time will tell as to the results of these dramatic political changes we are still absorbing from our screens, but if we are to make one prediction, it is that whatever his role, Flynn – perhaps in contrast to recent perceptions of Donald Trump – will now aim to be seen primarily as a unifier rather than as a disruptor.
The next ISR and C2 Battle Management forum will be taking place next week in Alexandria, Virginia, USA, where decision-makers from the CIA, FBI, NSA will be briefing alongside Generals and Admirals from the ISR departments of all U.S. military services. This will be proceeded in by the Airborne ISR and C2 BM forum in London, UK (March 15-16, 2017), which will host a diverse international panel of senior leaders.