A Conversation with Michael Allen

The creation of the role of the Director of National Intelligence was the most important governmental reform since World War II, said Michael Allen, former staff director of the House intelligence committee.Allen spoke with students and professors about his book, “Blinking Red: Crisis and Compromise in American Intellgence After 9/11,” which is about the complicated history of efforts to reform America’s national security after the intelligence failures related to the attacks on Sept. 11,2001. He analyzed the history of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation to create the DNI position and how the new post has impacted national security. The event Tuesday was the first of the Spring American Grand Strategy talks.”The creation of the DNI was the most tangible act that Congress and the president took in terms of restructuing the U.S. intelligence community after the Sept. 11 and Iraq attacks,” Allen said.Allen worked for the White House and Congress as a liaison to the United States intelligence community, said Lt.Col. Paul Darling, a counterterrorism and public policy fellow, in his introduction.

“Blinking Red”  tracks the history of how the role of the DNI was created in four and a half months.

“In 2004, Congress decided to create a Director of National Intelligence, a super-empowered individual who would in theory be able to manage across all of the intelligence agencies in the intelligence community,” Allen said.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 was passed for several reasons- the looming presidential election, the 9/11 attacks and fear of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Allen said.

Both the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency opposed the idea of the DNI, Allen said. He noted that the political struggle hinders the DNI’s ability to enact substantial changes.

“Personally, as an army officer, I’m going to be going to Washington, D.C. and I’m going to be dealing with the executive and legislative sides so his insight is really good,” Darling said. “He has a wealth of knowledge on both sides.”

In addition to hearing the material covered in “Blinking Red,” students had an opportunity to ask the author questions about other topics such as Jim Clapper’s “untruth” in Congress regarding NSA monitoring of American citizens, changes in the National Clandestine Service and the facts behind the movie “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Peter Feaver, professor of political science and director of the American Grand Strategy Program, noted that hearing speakers with real-world experience such as Allen can be a better learning experience than traditional academic studies.

“Reading articles is important, but sometimes just getting to talk the speaker in better,” Feaver said.

View the original Chronicle article here.