The Best Defense

DIA chief Flynn says collaboration is the key to solving future intelligence problems

By Lacy Hebert
Best Defense office of analyzing intelligence analysis

One lesson that Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, says he takes from his years of experience in the intelligence field is that challenges can be overcome as long as U.S. intelligence agencies invest, prioritize, and most importantly, collaborate. "If there's one thing that we know," he says, "it's that we absolutely can't do any of this alone."

This does not just include three-letter agencies collaborating and working together, however. Flynn, speaking at the Brookings Institution recently, said that it is essential that the United States partner with other countries, with foreign law enforcement, and with non-governmental organizations to share knowledge and experience. By contrast, he said, it is the failure to cooperate, the withholding of knowledge, the going it alone, that results in gaps in our intelligence and makes us vulnerable.

For example, said Flynn, a former director of intelligence for U.S. Central Command, al Qaeda in Syria is a serious problem for not just the region, but for the international community as a whole. Foreign elements fighting there will improve and develop their skills and then are likely to bring those skills back to their home countries or elsewhere. One side effect of the Syrian civil war is that the international community has begun talking about this, he said.


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What are the chances of joint Israeli-Saudi airstrikes against Iran in about a year?

I know it sounds bizarre, but we are at a point where the Israelis are more aligned with Saudi Arabia on the crucial question of the day -- what to do about Iran -- than they are with the government of the United States. "For the first time, Saudi Arabian interests and Israel are almost parallel. It's incredible." That's a Saudi prince talking. So what is the logical consequence of that realignment?

Well, other Saudis are in Washington quietly but clearly saying they would permit an Israeli overflight through their airspace. And that may be just a first step. Where does it lead? I think, possibly, to the concept of Israeli and Saudi strikes launched from the bases in Saudi Arabia where the U.S. Air Force used to operate. Stranger things have happened. The Saudi and Israeli F-15s even have interchangeable parts. Flying out of Saudi would make striking Iran far simpler than trying to stage it out of Israel and doing a bunch of aerial refueling on the back and forth. Being that much closer, the joint Israeli/Saudi force could hit many more targets -- i.e., we'll do the nuclear sites, you do the air defense sites and then their missile launchers. Then we'll do an air cap against retaliatory strikes. It would be interesting to see if Israeli jets were tasked to intercept Iranian warplanes in Saudi airspace. Maybe, along the lines of the old Russian move in various wars, Israeli pilots would fly Saudi F-15s.

Of course, as a friend points out, Iran would be likely to respond with a series of its own attacks, some of them pretty hard to intercept. We'd see at least some retaliatory missile strikes against Tel Aviv, Riyadh, and Jeddah. And likely some cyberhits on Saudi bank accounts around the world.

And then we'd be off to the races. What would the next step be? Closing the Persian Gulf? Attacks on oil facilities? Hezbollah messing up Lebanon? How would the Syrian civil war be affected?

And, of course, the effects on the world economy would be interesting.