U.S. National Security Strategy:
Finding the Right Balance

General Myers

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
Gen. Richard B. Myers, USAF (Ret.)

Finding balance in U.S. national security strategy was the topic of a Duke Law conference on April 20 and 21. Sponsored by the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security (LENS) and the Program in Public Law, the conference brought together expert panelists from academia, and the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and media sectors to address such issues as how best to balance national security and civil liberties, challenges posed by the privatization of military operations, the future of Iraq, and America’s ongoing role in that country. Three keynote speakers also offered perspectives informed by their front-line experience in Congress, the National Security Agency, and the highest echelons of the military.

Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-NC, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who voted in favor of giving the president authority to commit troops to Iraq, bluntly alleged that he and the American people were “duped with false intelligence.”

“I do not believe that the intelligence justified going into Iraq,” he said, noting that he had attended every classified briefing available to him before casting his vote. He accused neoconservatives in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans of “cherry-picking” intelligence to share with Congress, possibly going so far as to mount a propaganda campaign to garner support for an invasion.

“That is a violation of the Constitution, in my humble opinion,” he said, adding that he has called for an investigation into a possible violation of federal law. “It is against the law of this country to create any type of campaign that is a propaganda campaign–you cannot use the taxpayers’ money to create a propaganda campaign.” Calling himself a conservative Republican and expressing remorse over American lives lost in Iraq, Jones said it was crucial to expose the truth. “Whether Republican or Democrat, this country will never survive unless those of you who are trained to protect the Constitution demand of those of us in office…that the honest truth be told.”

Lt. Gen. Kenneth A. Minihan, USAF (Ret.), who served as director of the National Security Agency (NSA) from 1996 to 1999, addressed the challenge of intelligence gathering in a high-tech world and the issue of domestic surveillance. Internet technology has transformed intelligence gathering from a “farming” operation, one based on observing an enemy in a confined geographic area, noting trends, and making predictions about future behavior, to a “hunting” operation, he said.

“The enemy is hiding in plain sight in the networked environment, and we need to go find them to try to figure out what event is going to occur, but which I would like to disrupt. Now it isn’t about trends. It’s about how do I go find people who are learning to fly but not learning to land, in a world of people all learning to fly which includes taking off and landing?” Technology has “changed the notion of combat and where it is relative to us,” he went on, defining “homeland” for the purposes of homeland security as “the global operating environment where we live, work, do business, and have combat.” It has also collapsed the time between detection and reaction.

“Buried in here is this notion of domestic spying–surveilling the enemy–and buried in there is the notion of hunting for the adversary. Essentially I’m not hunting in the United States, but I’m hunting in an environment where there are zillions, literally, of communicative activities between the United States and outside. It’s not about domestic spying at all, but about hunting for those communications between someone in the United States and something entering or leaving [the country].”

Acknowledging the need to balance the notion of liberty with the demands of security, Minihan called for changes in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the authorizing environment for the NSA.

“FISA is the framework for monitoring a known terrorist as opposed to trying to hunt for a terrorist. You essentially have a time frame that is too long, a process which is not responsive to hunting, but to farming–the assumption of ‘probable cause’ sits in there–and it is arranged in such a way that it has the notion of a ‘U.S. person’ in its definition which doesn’t fit the technology environment. If I don’t know you are a terrorist and I’m hunting for you, the authorizing environment needs to permit that activity within the rule of law.”

The recently retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Richard B. Myers, said that in his view, the threat from violent extremism is “the greatest threat this country has faced to our way of life, and perhaps our democracy, since the Civil War.” Echoing Minihan, he noted that walls can’t contain the threat, but that offensive force is only one part of the necessary strategy to combat it.

“There has to be a much longer term component to the strategy that is not yet implemented. That is, how do you get to an environment where men and women don’t feel compelled to join jihad? It’s going to take a new way of thinking about our business that we haven’t been through yet. We’re at the beginning stages of that. It’s much more about economics and diplomacy than about military issues.” What will it take to win? Patience–four or five decades–will, and resolve, he said, along with open and bipartisan debate, facilitated by an informed media.

The description of the current conflict as a “war,” has been somewhat problematic, Myers acknowledged in answer to a question. “War implies that the military is your primary instrument of national power. It’s hard to explain if you think this is traditional warfare, when you pick up the paper and if there is a frontline move, we’ll win. You can’t do it. We don’t even have a good measure of merit for explaining progress, or lack of progress, in Iraq.”

“Our annual conference has come to provide a forum for military, government officials, academic experts, practitioners and students to engage in an exchange of ideas and perspectives,” said Charles S. Murphy Professor of Law and Public Policy Christopher Schroeder, director of the Program in Public Law. “I really think this is a unique opportunity for dialogue that is hard to find at any other gathering.” Professor Scott Silliman, LENS executive director and the principal organizer of the conference, agreed.

“Our goal was to inform and further the public debate on these very important issues in the ongoing war on terrorism, and I think we did that and more.” Silliman was particularly pleased with the number of students who attended the event. “These are the leaders of tomorrow, and the lessons they learned from the exchange of views in our conference will hopefully shape and give greater balance to our country’s future national security policy.”