What is the better move in addressing terrorist attack tunnels, shutting them down or preserving surveillance of the broader tunnel threat, former US Defense Intelligence Agency director David Shedd asks.
Shedd, who spent most of his career as a CIA operative, was summing up the dilemma confronting Israel, the US and other countries facing tunnel- related security issues in a wide-ranging interview with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday on the sidelines of the INSS conference.
Asked how Israel should cope with the Hamas tunnel threat, he said, “I think it starts with a constant monitoring of the activity through very high-end technology that is available,” along with constant vigilance on the ground.
He noted that there is a “competing tension between intelligence collection and military enforcement. You only know what you can see,” meaning that destroying a specific tunnel or arresting specific diggers “immediately shuts down a certain set of activities.”
In that sense, any action to destroy a tunnel or make a specific arrest means “you have given up the method” you were using to gather intelligence to the other side, and “you go dark and blind at that point” in terms of intelligence collection.
At the same time, Shedd said, “I am not here making a judgment about when that call should be made” on when to take action, preemptive action or when to sit tight and continue surveillance of an adversary’s tunnel activities.
He added that there were obvious differences between Israel tracking Hamas and the US tracking drug smugglers on the Mexico border.
Moving on to intelligence issues confronting the new US administration, the former Defense Intelligence Agency director expressed optimism that President Donald Trump would give much more respect to the CIA now that he has put his own pick, Mike Pompeo (whom Shedd calls a “fantastic choice”), in as the CIA director.
Shedd and many others from the US intelligence community have been less than thrilled with Trump’s unwillingness thus far to receive regular intelligence briefings, but he said he was optimistic that a changing of the guard would change things – partially based on Trump’s visit to the CIA “only a day after the inauguration.”
While outgoing CIA director John Brennan slammed Trump for using his appearance to criticize the media (and Shedd and others may not have loved that part either), Shedd said Trump’s “visit to the CIA was a very strong message to the men and women of the CIA and to the intelligence community that he takes seriously their role and the responsibility they have for providing national security.”
He also rejected the allegations that Trump would leak Israeli or European intelligence to Russia or other countries in violation of trust about conditions for sharing intelligence.
Shedd expressed these positive reassurances about Trump despite correcting the record of some incorrect news reports (possibly also encouraged by Trump) that he had served as an adviser to the Republican’s campaign.
In fact, while Shedd did speak on December 20 at a conference at Trump’s Mar-a- Lago resort in Florida, he said he had no idea that Trump would be appearing right after him, though “I wish him well” now that he will be running the country.
Homing in on the Iran nuclear deal, he said that Tehran’s political promise that it would not produce nuclear weapons even once the deal’s uranium enrichment restrictions expire is “not worth much.”
Asked to explain that view, he said, “There is no enforcement mechanism for it, and there are no penalties – I guess that defines not having any teeth.”
Despite his objections to aspects of the agreement, he said “this might not be what Mr. Trump wants to hear,” but he would advocate “staying the course with the deal and proceeding with extraordinary vigor to monitor its implementation.”
Shedd said Trump should be far more active than the Obama administration in calling out Iran on even small violations, and especially if any concealed violations were discovered or inspection activities were interfered with.
Within the US intelligence community, Shedd is probably best known for being one of the forces behind the restructuring of the US’s intelligence infrastructure post-9/11.
Shedd said that some members of the CIA, the National Security Agency and the FBI viewed the new level of intelligence sharing among agencies post-9/11 and of the creation of the position of director of national intelligence “intrusive to day-to-day business.”
Pressed for an anecdote about how he had to push through opposition to make the changes, he recalled a meeting he had with then-director of national intelligence John Michael McConnell, national security adviser Steve Hadley and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, in which the CIA and FBI demanded to specifically list and guard their authority regarding a wide range of scenarios.
Shedd’s response to them was “we are still very intensely a people, a relational community,” and the key would be the “relationship between the local CIA chief of station” in a given country and the specific persons “from the intelligence community overseas” in the same place at that time.
“I won out on that,” he added.
Finally, Shedd is famous for an incident in 2008, when then-CIA director Michael Hayden slapped him in the face in front of president Barack Obama, to demonstrate the intensity, or lack thereof, of some of the enhanced interrogation techniques.
Shedd said that “the face slap” had “lots of rules” including “the palm has to be open,” noting that Hayden had asked his permission beforehand for the demonstration.
He does not support returning to enhanced interrogation techniques, but views the post 9/11 environment as a unique period.