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Transcript of Interview of Major General Michael E. Ennis

Transcript of Interview of Major General Michael E. Ennis, USMC Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service for Community HUMINT by WTOP Radio's J.J. Green

March 7, 2007

February 28, 2007

Green: General, I'm going to ask you as a matter of record and protocol, to give us your name, your title, and your connection to the Agency, please.

Ennis: My name is Major General Michael Ennis, and I'm the Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service for Community HUMINT. Prior to that, I was the Director of Defense HUMINT for the Defense Intelligence Agency. I came here in February 2006, so I've been on board almost 13 months now.

Green: OK, General, let's get started. As you said, you are the Deputy Director for Community HUMINT with the National Clandestine Service. Please demystify this organization for us. Tell us what it is that you and your team do.

Ennis: The National Clandestine Service really is nothing more than the old Directorate of Operations under the CIA. Perhaps the biggest difference is that the National Clandestine Service also includes this new office called Community HUMINT. What is that? The Community HUMINT office is tasked to do several things. First and foremost, is to coordinate and deconflict the HUMINT activities that go on throughout the world. You may not know this, but there are almost a dozen agencies or organizations that actually conduct clandestine HUMINT, or human operations overseas. Each one has its own authorities, its own budget, its own priorities, and its own requirements. It's kind of like taking 14 Energizer bunnies, turning them on, and throwing them into a room, and they're all over the place. What we need to do is to try to deconflict and coordinate them so we don't duplicate our effort or so that we don't influence or affect somebody else's operation overseas. So what we have done is create a coordination center, here at the National Clandestine Service, that is comprised of representatives of about six or seven of the major organizations who conduct HUMINT operations. And on a daily basis, they get the reports in from the field if there are problems with coordination or deconfliction, they handle them, try to resolve them at the lowest possible level, so that those operations continue to go forward, and hopefully successfully.

Green: General, let's back up just for a second and explain for our audience, most of who are lay people, what HUMINT means.

Ennis: That's a great question, and a lot depends on who is asking the question, or who is giving the answer, because HUMINT means different things to different people. If you are from the Intelligence Community, you would probably say HUMINT is intelligence that is collected by a human being, by organizations from the Intelligence Community. But there are other organizations that are not collecting intelligence, but who also are conducting human intelligence. Let me explain what I'm saying. There are organizations who have as their primary mission law enforcement, or drug enforcement, or, in the case of the Special Operations Command, operational preparation of the environment, they call it, where they are not collecting intelligence, they are doing their other missions. But they are utilizing tradecraft, or clandestine methodologies, or they are using human sources, or they are establishing networks of sources. In other words, things that look like it might be espionage, but is actually being done under the auspices of another mission. So HUMINT actually includes some of the law enforcement, drug enforcement, Special Operations Command, as well as members of the Intelligence Community.

Green: In your case, it means the actual collection of intelligence and dissemination of it, and making sure that conflicts, where they may arise, are worked out and sorted out. But it doesn't mean law enforcement, it doesn't mean those other things.

Ennis: Correct.

Green: It means the actual information collection.

Ennis: That's right. That is exactly right.

Green: OK, so you have sort of explained what your mission is. But let's just get the official definition of what your mission is, sir.

Ennis: Rather than putting it in the sense of a mission, if I put it in the tasks that we have been assigned, I think I can explain a little bit more clearly what it is we are trying to do. In addition to doing the deconfliction and coordination, the WMD Commission -- the recommendations of the WMD Commission, from which the National Clandestine Service basically evolved, we were charged with going beyond the mere deconfliction and coordination of our HUMINT activities and operations, but actually we were tasked with integrating the capabilities of the various HUMINT partners within the Community, and synchronizing our operations against high-priority targets of national interest to the United States. This makes a lot of sense because it is the most effective use of the HUMINT resources that we have in this country. And so if we have a particular hard target or a particularly difficult operational problem, we are no longer working in separate areas. We are actually integrating our capabilities and synchronizing our operations against those particular targets. That is one of the missions that we have.

A third one is that we as a Community, because there are so many different players out there who are conducting human intelligence, we have been tasked with setting standards. Setting standards for training, setting standards for tradecraft, setting standards for source validation, for cover, how we manage our cover, how we manage our communications. So that even though we have different organizations, right now they are with varying levels of capability. We want to standardize the training and the capabilities that we have throughout the Community.

Green: Another thing I wanted to go back to, that you mentioned already, is there are, I think you said, something like a dozen agencies overseas that have their own authorities and their own processes. Correct me if I'm wrong, but these are all official adjuncts of the US Government.

Ennis: Absolutely...

Green: They function under the capacity of the US Government. Can you say what they are?

Ennis: First of all, we have the FBI, we have the Drug Enforcement Administration, we have the CIA, or the National Clandestine Service, we have the Defense Intelligence Agency, there is Special Operations Command which includes JSOC, we have our Army, Navy, and Air Force counterintelligence organizations...those are the ones that come to mind right now.

Green: And these are the ones that you were saying have their own overseas authorities and operations.

Ennis: That's right.

Green: And you have to make sure that everybody is on the same page.

Ennis: That's right. Exactly.

Green: How important is the National Clandestine Service, from your point of view, for what you do, to US national security? And how does your job, how does your office, fit into this puzzle? If I could put that a better way, HUMINT, and the collection of it, and the organization of it, the dissemination of it, is clearly one of the most important objectives for the Intelligence Community, as we know it. So how important is your part of the NCS mission to US national security?

Ennis: Well, I think it is a very important part of the whole process. And it is not one that you are going to see readily. It's [not] going to be very transparent. But if we have to conduct operations against a particular target, the CIA recognizes that it is not alone. It does not possess all the capabilities. There are capabilities that other organizations, departments, and agencies within the US Government have, that can be applied to the problem. So what we do is to avoid the duplication, and to have the most effective use of the resources available, we bring them together, we integrate them, and we synchronize them against a single problem. And that is simply proper management of a scarce resource that we have in the government, and those are our human resources.

But the second thing I would say is that as we begin to work together, our capabilities, our abilities, improve. And the quality of the operation is actually getting better. Those two things. The effective stewardship of the resources, and the improvement in the quality of the operation. Those are things that my organization, my part of the NCS, bring to the table.

Green: General, I want to veer off course here just for a moment, and this may be something you don't want to deal with, or it may be something you are very interested in dealing with. What we have heard -- time and time again since 9-11 -- is that Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida are perhaps the biggest threat to the nation and indeed the world, considering the thought process and their Wahabi-ist tendencies. How does your organization view that problem, and collecting intelligence on that organization, and working with that intelligence. How do you and your Community approach it?

Ennis: Well, I certainly wouldn't want to speak on behalf of the Director of the National Clandestine Service or General Hayden, but my observation, from where I sit, is that they take this threat very seriously. Having been involved in this business now for three years -- two years with the Defense Intelligence Agency and now a year out here at the CIA -- I can assure you that we take that threat very seriously. I am not sure that the average American realizes the depth and the extent of the threat that this radical element, this terrorist element...the extent of this threat. It is very serious. These people are dedicated, they are committed to taking down Western values and Western cultures. And they have been at it now for nearly 20 years. It is a very serious threat, and we take it seriously.

Green: And collecting intelligence from this particular organization has to be challenging, just by nature and by virtue of the way in which they approach what they do. Very compartmentalized, very separated, and very hard to find. But there have been some success stories. Would you care to talk about any of them, or would you prefer that I just allude to the fact that there have been?

Ennis: Well, I would prefer that you could allude to the fact that there have been successes. And actually, that is what the word "clandestine" is all about, OK? We obviously can't go around bragging about some of our successes, because it reveals some of the sources and methods that we use. This is the "silent service," and it is so for a reason. But I can assure you there have been successes, and there are great men and women -- all over the world right now -- working under that veil of secrecy, if you will, who are dedicated to the values of the United States of America and are carrying out this battle, if you will, every single day.

Green: So when we hear stories, like we have recently, that Al-Qaida is reconstituting itself, the Taliban are regaining strength, and a lot people who hear these things on the radio or read it in the newspaper or see it on television get scared, it should be known that there are people out there -- good guys and women out there -- who are making some gains as well. So it's not just Al-Qaida reconstituting and preparing to storm the world.

Ennis: There is always that other side of the story. Absolutely. And they are out there. And we are blessed. I have seen some of the greatest young men and women here -- creative, innovative, energetic, patriotic -- who are absolutely dedicated to the values of this country, and are out there fighting that battle every single day.

Green: General, one of the big issues that is out there now, and you, being a military man, you may bristle at this, and I'm going to apologize in advance for having to do it. But there has been some talk out there about how CIA and the military can't get along, don't play well together. Specifically, as far as sharing intelligence and Community HUMINT, and the National Clandestine Service as a whole, I suppose. What is the real story behind that, because we know there have been some difficulties. With the previous Director and the previous Secretary of Defense, there was that history. Where are we now, where do we stand today?

Ennis: I think we are in a great position. I think this is one of the greatly misunderstood issues that we've had out here in the past. The issue is really about authorities -- when it comes to DoD's authorities or the FBI's authorities or DEA's authorities to conduct operations, OK? What DoD was asserting was that they had the authority to conduct operations in the pursuit of the Global War on Terrorism. Unfortunately, that translated, in many arenas, as an unwillingness to coordinate these activities -- to just go out and do what they want and how they want. And that is absolutely not true. I have been dealing with this now for well over a year. DoD is committed....always has been, and is sincere about it, their desire to coordinate their activities with the CIA and others, if necessary. As a matter of fact, they are so serious about it, DoD has sat down with the National Clandestine Service and actually done a document outlining coordination procedures that are really quite rigorous, that both sides are abiding by -- DoD and the CIA.

We had been working under coordination procedures that were developed in the Cold War. And now, with a number of different organizations out there conducting operations overseas, you have Chiefs of Station who are looking at them and saying, "These old coordination procedures don't necessarily fit the new environment." We are creating these new coordination procedures. We've done so at the FBI, we've done so with DoD, and both sides are committed to making this work. This coordination issue, I believe, is way overblown.

Green: But it won't go away, though. When I spoke with the General [Hayden] earlier about this, he said to me, at that point in time, that "as far as we and the Pentagon go, speaking at the CIA, we are on the same page." But there have been some questions about how things have not been going as smoothly as possible. Would you chalk that up to two things, or more, or something totally different, and I'm going to suggest those two things -- one, the National Clandestine Service, as you said, being a remake of the old DO, being new, having a new challenge, being in a situation where you are having to create some things and be innovative at the same time in a very difficult time in our history, and the second thing is, the same thing appears to be going on at the Pentagon. Or am I not on the same page?

Ennis: No, I think you are on the same page. It is a couple of things. In a way, the NCS is kind of like a leopard that is changing its spots. I think it is important to remember that from 1947 to 1997, the CIA had pretty much a clear running field overseas when it came to doing clandestine HUMINT operations. But with the advent of the Khobar Towers bombing, then there was the Cole bombing. there were the bombings of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, all of a sudden you had Navy and Air Force counterintelligence units that were out overseas, you had FBI elements that were overseas, Defense HUMINT came about in 1995 and began to work more overseas, it became a crowded field. So all of a sudden, the bold procedures for coordination didn't necessarily fit with all of these new players.

Secondly, with the advent of the National Clandestine Service, where it was our mandate to have more of a Community approach overseas, in addition to having to develop new procedures, we had to break old habits. Because all of the people who were part of the old DO just didn't go away. They are still here, as part of the new National Clandestine Service, with an additional mission, and that is not to control another organization's activities, not to challenge their authorities, but to work with them, to enable them to be successful. They will assess somebody else's operation and say, "Yes, we think this is weak here, here, and here, and this is what you need to do to improve it in order for it to be successful in this particular environment." That is a new role for the Chiefs of Station. So it is getting used to the new procedures, getting used to the new mission.

Are there occasional hiccups in the field? Absolutely. There are going to be. But I would argue that these are acts of omission as opposed to commission. Will these problems of coordination continue in the future? I hope not, because I would like to see nothing better than, as we begin to synchronize our operations, the problems of coordination just fade away, as we become used to the new procedures.

Green: How much do problems like that hurt the United States, hurt US national security? How much of an issue is it, when these things come up, and how important should it be to get over those things?

Ennis: I would not say that any one incident constitutes a grave threat or a breach in our security or something like that. But in total, as we begin to look, longer-range, at the threats that this country faces, we have got to be able to combine our efforts and integrate those capabilities. So there is less and less room for independent action by any one agency. We have got to work in concert with each other. And so, for the future, as good stewards of resources, we need to be able to integrate better.

Green: What do you say to your critics? What do you say to people who have been overblowing the hiccups that are taking place?

Ennis: I just tell them. I just tell them that coordination is not the issue. And I can look them straight in the eye and mean it with a great deal of sincerity, because I have been working these issues on a day-to-day basis for three years now. And there are no rogues out there. And really, on the military side, military commanders understand the need to coordinate their operations in the field. They do not want to cross the line of departure without having coordinated on their right and left flanks. It is no different in the HUMINT world. They understand the importance of coordination. But they also understand the importance, that they feel that they have the authority to conduct certain operations, and no other agency really has the authority to tell them, "No." But that doesn't mean, that just because someone has the authority to conduct an operation, that they can go ahead and do it in a way that is not going to be successful. And that's where we come in . We help them, we enable them to be successful.

Green: What is job one? What is the most important task on the list for the National Clandestine Service right now, and what is your role in that?

Ennis: Now we are talking about the National Clandestine Service writ large, as opposed to just the Community aspect. I would say one of the biggest challenges the National Clandestine Service faces is managing the growth of all the young men and women that are coming into this agency. As I mentioned before, we are every day bringing in folks -- young, energetic, bright -- we have to get them well trained, we have to keep them motivated, we have got to keep them engaged, get them out in the field -- and managing that growth so that they have the proper career paths, that they have the right advancement opportunities, that they have a variance in their careers, that's going to be important, managing that influx is very important.

Green: You may have answered this in another context, but I'm going to ask it again in that context you just mentioned, getting these young people in and managing them and their growth, and certainly making sure that they are plugged into the organization and producing, is clearly what you have to do. So when you look at that, what would you say is your principal challenge right now? Would it be something like getting people who speak a certain language, or people who understand certain cultures, or is that something that does not fall under your purview?

Ennis: That doesn't fall under my purview, but having dealt with this for two years at Defense HUMINT, with DIA, and seen it here, the CIA faces the same challenges that DIA faced. Absolutely. If we can get people who understand the cultures and have a basic understanding of the language, that is a definite plus. But we really also looking for kids who can think on their feet, who can work in stressful environments, who are innovative, think out of the box, they bring creative approaches to the HUMINT world, that's what we are looking for.

Green: We already talked about the collaborative environment between the CIA and the Pentagon to some degree, and you talked about that in detail. But the NCS was born in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, and HUMINT, at that point in time, was I guess perceived, or at least approached, a little differently before then. So, since your office has been stood up, certainly since you have been for, how would you characterize the progress that you have made, based on what your challenges have been, and what have been some of the sticking points?

Ennis: Great question. Remember I talked a little about the leopard changing his spots. I would say one of the biggest sticking points is we have tried to bring people on board and to work with them to help develop standards, develop common training. There is a reluctance, there is a sense of distrust, by the other organizations, of the CIA. I think they are a little bit afraid that this is going to be a CIA-led effort to control their operations, or take them over, or co-opt them in some way. You know, the CIA was the first among equals for many, many years, and there wasn't a lot of room for these other organizations. And now when they are coming on the scene, we have to overcome this concern, or this fear. And it is going to take a little bit of time. It's only natural, where they begin to trust that we are very sincere about enabling them, working with them, and enabling them to be successful in what they are trying to do. And working together, as a team. This is all about leadership. It's not about ownership or control.

Yes, we would like to act as a role model, as a good role model in the HUMINT world. But overcoming that concern that these other organizations have -- that we are somehow going to control their operations -- is going to take some time. But we are making progress. Because as we get involved in these working groups and these operational initiatives, they are beginning to see that yes, we are serious about this. We are serious about the HUMINT enterprise, and moving forward as one team.

Green: These other organizations you are talking about are other parts of the DNI...

Ennis: No, I'm talking about Defense HUMINT, the FBI, Joint Special Operations Command, SOCOM, etc.

Green: So, if that's the case then, give me a scenario of how you win these people over. You are talking about the working groups and some of the things that you have underway. Can you give us a scenario?

Ennis: Absolutely. I can give you an example. We're working operations against Country X. An organization, it could be Special Operations Command, it could be Defense HUMINT, or somebody comes up, and as we're working, we begin to realize that there is an operation that one of our other partners could conduct. And they come to us with a proposal, and they say, "This is something we would like to do." Instead of just saying "no," because we felt that operation was just not up to snuff -- that the training and the tradecraft that they were going to employ was not commensurate with the risk and complexity of the operation -- what we did is go back and work with them, we'll say, "You know we think that your cover is not really adequate here, we think the training that you have is not quite right, and one or two other things. And we'll work with you to raise the level, raise the bar to the point where we think this operation has a chance of succeeding." And we have actually done that, in some very sensitive places, with organizations. The missions have been conducted, and the results have been very successful. And once we do that -- once or two or three or four times -- they are going to begin to realize that no, we are not trying to take over their operation, we really are serious about working with them. And this is happening in the war zones, on the periphery of the war zones, and outside of the war zones.

Green: Go on. Details? ((laughter)) I know you can't go into details here.

Precisely an example of what I think people who aren't in your business, or aren't in the industry, just the average "Joe" or "Susie" can understand, is basically what happens on a retreat. You know, people within an organization who have some issues, who need to work those issues out, they go on a retreat and they work them out. But you've got to do this on the job. You've got to do this under some significant pressure.

Ennis: We do retreats, too, if I may interrupt. We are doing retreats too. We will have a particular problem, not even a problem, an issue. And I'll give you an example. DoD and the FBI and some others have come to us and they say, we need help in developing better HUMINT training. And we have put together an advisory group comprised of education specialists -- HUMINT education specialists -- and we have also included members from FBI, DEA, Department of Homeland Security, DoD, in this group. We are meeting for two days next week, and we are going to sit down and look at the courses that are being taught, we are going to analyze them, and we are going to see where they can be improved for each of these organizations. And it's not just going to be a CIA show, it's going to be a Community effort, to look at these and come up with some common standards and guidelines for them. So yes, we do retreats too, but we don't do it in isolation. We do it with members of the Community.

Green: OK. Moving on toward the end of this here, General. Some basic questions I would like to ask -- semi-personal -- but I think that is part of the story here. What really bothers you the most about what's going on, and what makes you happy? I'll get you to answer both of those, and you can choose whichever one you want to answer first, but primarily what I mean when {I ask] what bothers you, when you go home at night, when you are done with this for the day, what is it that is on your mind that probably bothers you more than anything else, and how do you handle that?

Ennis: I think the thing that bothers me more than anything else, is that some of the things that we are trying to do, or some of the issues that we deal with, are misconstrued and they are taken out of context for somebody's own agenda or for public consumption or something like that, and we waste a lot of time trying to defend ourselves against things that have never really happened. The example of the coordination with DoD. This was really more of an issue about authorities than it was about coordination. But yet we have spent so much time explaining the coordination problem. It has taken time away from what we could really be doing to do other things here within the Community HUMINT program. That concerns me.

What makes me happy when I go home at night is the absolute enthusiasm with which the other Community players have come in and been willing to sit down, roll up their sleeves, and get to work on issues of common concern. When we are dealing with threats of common concern, we get operators coming out of the woodwork, who want to sit down and begin to really plan, strategically, operations, and coordinate them. And when it comes time to setting standards for the Community, they want to participate, they want to be a part of it, they don't want to be dictated to. This has been really, tremendously heartwarming for me, to see this...this has been something the Community has wanted for a long time. What we want is to just be able to get on with the job and get it done.

Green: General, it's interesting that we are having this conversation in part, because most folks think that after 9-11, you wouldn't have these kinds of issues--not to say that they are small. But you have a huge Community of people here, all of whom have their interests, their concerns, their plans, their goals, and missions. But most folks after 9-11 thought that we would remain that galvanized country, and intelligence organizations would follow. But apparently, it's not that way. Give me your view of the future, how long it is going to take to get there.

Ennis: I don't mean for this to sound pessimistic, but I always say that whenever you undertake a major initiative, one that involves cultural differences, legal differences, procedural differences, historical differences, it's going to take about a generation, 20 years, for it to completely change. And that's just because you've got people who were born or came into this organization and do things a certain way, or another organization and do things a certain way, but as you train the young kids coming in, and you build them up, and they understand that this is the way of the future, this is the norm for them. And it is going to take a while, I would say 20 years, to get it fully changed. We are talking tectonic plate shifts here. We have organizations who have very, very deeply ingrained cultures, and you just can't change cultures overnight, because cultures evolve around the mission. And the only way for the culture to change is the mission to change, and the mission is changing a bit. The FBI is getting more involved in foreign intelligence collection. The CIA, with the National Clandestine Service, is becoming more of a Community organization. DoD is becoming more involved overseas in HUMINT operations. These are changes in mission. Now the cultures have got to change to catch up with that, and it's not something that is done overnight.

Green: A couple of quick things. General, you clearly have had a long and illustrious career, and you have done a number of things, you've been a number of places. Why did you take this job, because it is clear that this is no cakewalk. Why did you take this job?

Ennis: I'll be honest with you, J.J. I didn't want the job. I was actually going over to be General Casey's Chief of Staff at MNFI. I got a call from General Hayden, who at that time was the Principal Deputy Director to Ambassador Negroponte at the DNI, and he told me that they wanted me to go over to this job. And I told him that I actually had orders to go to Baghdad to be the Chief of Staff for General Casey, but I appreciated the offer. And he told me it wasn't an offer. ((laughter)) Here I am. But I have to tell you. As much as I really did not initially want to come over here, I am so glad now that I did, for the reasons I explained earlier. I am gratified by the way NCS has approached this, and my position. It would have been very easy for them to just put me on the outside and let me do the Community thing, while they continued to do the old DO thing, and that's not the way this has happened at all. I have been brought in as part of the DO, as part of the NCS, I know what they are doing, and it helps me, as I work with Community partners, to understand better how the NCS, the CIA work. Because if we are going to be a role model, I need to understand how they operate.

But secondly, I am so pleased with the way the Community partners have come to this mission, have come to this concept of coordination, deconfliction, synchronization, integration. For the Community and for the United States, this is really an important concept and an important initiative, and I'm just very pleased to be part of it.

Green: When Americans go to bed at night after hearing this interview, or reading it, whichever they do, or both, what is it that you want them to know? What is it that you want to leave with them, based on what we talked about, based on what your job is, based on what your mission is, and what it is that you are charged with doing? What is it that you want the average person to know?

Ennis: I would like the average person to know that no matter what they hear on television, or on radio, or read in the papers or the magazines about how "screwed up" things are, that there are men and women who are absolutely dedicated to the values of this country, who are working very hard, doing what they think are in the best interests of this country, to somehow make this a better place than it was yesterday. They can't always go into detail about what they are doing, but there are definitely people there who are working on what they believe are the best interests [of the nation]. And they are a very dedicated group.

Green: Anything you want to add, sir, that we haven't talked about that you think is important as we discuss this particular topic today?

Ennis: No, I think that just about wraps it up. I am very pleased to have been out here for the last 13 months. I think this is a wonderful organization. We have great leadership. We have a group of people now in position. Secretary of Defense Gates, Admiral McConnell over at the DNI, with General Hayden in place here, and I know General Clapper has been nominated to be the USDI [Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence], he has not yet been confirmed. But if he is confirmed, and we have these four individuals at the very top, as the Secretary of Defense and our intelligence agencies, I think the stars are aligning and this is going to be a very great year, next year, 18 months to work. And we are going to see some wonderful, positive changes.

Green: General, thank you for your time, and I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you.

Ennis: Thank you, J.J. It has been a pleasure.

Historical Document
Posted: Mar 16, 2007 12:09 PM
Last Updated: Jun 18, 2008 09:48 AM