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Jim Clapper Shares Wisdom From A Career in Operational Intelligence

Security, Risk Management and Intelligence professionals all know of Jim Clapper. He had a long and distinguished career in the US Air Force, which included leadership spanning the Vietnam era all the way to the end of the Cold War. By the time he retired he was a three star General, leading the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. After retirement he would later return to government service as head of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency just three days after 9/11. In 2007 he was named the Pentagon’s top intelligence official (USDI), serving as an appointee in both the Bush and Obama administrations before President Obama appointed him DNI.  He is author of the book “Facts and Fears: Hard truths from a life in intelligence.”

In this OODAcast we sought to extract lessons from General Clapper’s career relevant to intelligence professionals in and out of government. We get behind the scenes looks at the sometimes frustrating situations he was placed in early in his career and lessons that flowed from frustrations, including anecdotes that drive home the reality of what intelligence is supposed to be. Intelligence professionals in and out of government will hear first hand the dangerous temptations put on intelligence professionals to do what is easy and why the easy path can lead to irrelevance. Ever heard of a “self-licking ice cream cone?” We explore the caution of that phrase, which is a warning to not just produce intelligence for intelligence sake. Intelligence must be produced for a purpose and disseminated to those who need it. We also examine the tendency of some in the intelligence community to want to be historians, focused on exploring what happened instead of what will happen next. Reputation of military intelligence cultures are also examined.

We examine cyber intelligence, and the perception of some that the intelligence community is falling into the trap of just being historians there. But we also dive into what can be done to change this situation including changes in legislation and funding and prioritization.

Whether you are in commercial business intelligence or the government intelligence community there are lessons for you from the successful Osama Bin Laden raid of 2 May 2011 and we examine some of them in this OODAcast. If you are in the commercial sector and do not run your own operational military units you may be wondering what these lessons are. As you will find in the video, the success was based on being proactive about intelligence. Making assessments, seeking information, validating or refuting hypotheses, making new assessments and continually hunting for the right data. This success focused approach is required in any successful intelligence effort.

We ask for insights and tips on how to provide intelligence to incredibly busy decision makers. Cut away the fluff, he says, know what two or three points to make, make them, and stop. This can be hard, it is almost always easiest to drone on. But investing in making points succinctly and clearly are key.

General Clapper’s management and leadership style reflects a belief that people should be treated with respect, and in most professional situations you should assume you are interacting with people that are competent and are set on doing the right thing, unless you get information that indicates otherwise. This approach comes with some risks but has helped bring out the best in teams he has led. We talk about this and many other leadership lessons including an example where his mother demonstrated to him an enduring lesson about bravery and an ability to take action at the moment needed to do the right thing. This happened in 1952 at Chitose Air Force base in Japan, and young Jim Clapper was at the Officer’s club with his parents. Watching how his mother proactively worked to demonstrate that all races are welcome at her table left a mark on him he explains well in this discussion. This story is the kind of thing they make movies about, and is well worth hearing and reflecting on today.

We also talk about operational intelligence, and get an excellent briefing from General Clapper on the dynamics in the geopolitical situation with China and Russia.

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Additional Resources in and references on Intelligence:

  • A Practitioner’s View of Corporate Intelligence: Organizations in competitive environments should continually look for ways to gain advantage over their competitors. The ability of a business to learn and translate that learning into action, at speeds faster than others, is one of the most important competitive advantages you can have. This fact of business life is why the model of success in Air to Air combat articulated by former Air Force fighter pilot John Boyd, the Observe – Orient – Decide – Act (OODA) decision loop, is so relevant in business decision-making today.
  • Useful Standards For Corporate Intelligence: Discusses standards in intelligence, a topic that can improve the quality of all corporate intelligence efforts and do so while reducing ambiguity in the information used to drive decisions and enhancing the ability of corporations to defend their most critical information.
  • Optimizing Corporate Intelligence: Actionable recommendation on ways to optimize a corporate intelligence effort. It is based on a career serving large scale analytical efforts in the US Intelligence Community and in applying principles of intelligence in corporate America.
  • An Executive’s Guide To Cognitive Bias in Decision Making: Cognitive Bias and the errors in judgement they produce are seen in every aspect of human decision-making, including in the business world. Companies that have a better understanding of these cognitive biases can optimize decision making at all levels of the organization, leading to better performance in the market. Companies that ignore the impact these biases have on corporate decision-making put themselves at unnecessary risk.
  • Global Risks and Geopolitical Sensemaking: A collection of critical resources for any organization seeking to track, and mitigate risks due to international geopolitics events and actions.

Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of OODA LLC, the technology research and advisory firm with a focus on artificial intelligence and cybersecurity which publishes OODALoop.com and CTOvision.com. Bob is the author of the book The Cyber Threat. Bob has been an advisor to dozens of successful high tech startups and has conducted enterprise cybersecurity assessments for businesses in multiple sectors of the economy. He was a career Naval Intelligence Officer and is the former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency.