To the Naval Intelligence Community,
Seventy years ago, next month, at the Battle of Midway, the United States Navy achieved one of the most decisive “come from behind” victories in the annals of naval warfare; a victory that not only turned the tide of war in the Pacific, but also had enormously profound geo-strategic implications that have continued to shape our world even to today. This victory by a heavily outnumbered U.S. force was enabled in a critical way by one of the greatest intelligence success stories of all time, carried out by a small group of intelligence officers and cryptanalysts working in Hawaii who broke the Japanese code and correctly assessed the Japanese plan, and provided that critical information to Admiral Nimitz in time for him to take action to ambush the previously undefeated Japanese carrier task force. One of the junior officers in that Intelligence Team was Mac Showers, who later when on to flag rank. Going on 93 years old, Mac is still very much alive and kicking, with his superb analytical intelligence mind very much intact.
This past weekend it was my great privilege to participate in a dinner honoring Admiral Showers. I would like to share a little bit of the atmospherics of the dinner with you, because I believe it to be very important that the Naval Intelligence Community never lose sight of the extraordinary legacy, and operational intelligence tradecraft, handed down to us by the pioneers in WWII and the leading practitioners of that art during the Cold War, that continues to enable our community’s continued great successes in battlefields spanning the globe – Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and more. Present at the dinner were a majority of still living Naval Intelligence flag officers, their spouses, and the spouses of some who are no longer among us. The guests included the two Naval Intelligence Officers to achieve four-star rank, Admiral Bobby Ray Inman and Admiral Bill Studeman, along with Vice Admiral Mike McConnell, who “only” achieved three-stars, but later went on to be the Director of National Intelligence. At one point, I was surrounded by three former directors of the National Security Agency and a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (VADM Tom Wilson) – trust me, I still very much felt like a lieutenant in that group. I won’t name every flag officer present, but it included the “junior” officer present, RDML (sel) Rob Hoppa; the first woman officer to be the Joint Staff J2, RADM(sel) Liz Train; the longest-serving Director of Naval Intelligence, RADM Rick Porterfield; the DNI for the culmination of the Cold War and Desert Storm, RADM Tom Brooks, and former DNI RDML Tony Cothron, who organized the event.
As the evening went on, the distinguished seniors offered tributes to Mac, as well as extraordinarily insightful commentary about the current state of world affairs and the critical role of intelligence. As one of the juniors present, I wrestled for a while with the old adage, “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Despite that, I spoke up anyway, and my message to the group was thus (paraphrased);
- Reports of the demise of OPINTEL are very much exaggerated. If you were to go out to someplace like the Blue Ridge/7th Fleet, the 5th Fleet MOC in Bahrain, the JIATF in Key West, or the JIATF at Bagram, or other locations, you would see OPINTEL still being practiced today at a very high level of art. You would recognize it. And you would be pleased. Some of the collection tools are different, the displays are certainly much more spectacular, but chasing terrorists/high value individuals or mobile SAM sites still has very much in common with chasing Cold War submarines – they are all mobile fleeting targets that require an incredibly high degree of intelligence expertise and art to defeat. I won’t speak for what goes on in Washington, but our intelligence teams in the fleet and in special operations are doing extraordinary work that would make you extraordinarily proud.
My second point concerned the Information Dominance Corps (IDC), since unsurprisingly this group was hard-core in their belief in the importance of undiluted intelligence to successful warfighting; a position by the way that I unabashedly share. That said, I am equally committed in my belief that the Information Dominance Corps has and will continue to provide great synergy amongst the IDC communities that is also of critical importance to successful warfighting. I assured them that the leadership of the IDC remains committed to ensuring that the critical warfighting expertise that each of the IDC communities brings to the fight will not be diluted or “homogenized.” I explained that I was a big believer in the IDC concept, although I admitted to being a late-comer to the idea of the warfare pin. I’d gone thirty years without a pin with no discernable negative impact on my ability to interact with senior operational commanders. However, I did have opportunity to fly out to the USS VINSON shortly before she gave a respectful burial at sea to Osama bin Ladin (although I think my exact words were “tossed what’s his name over the side.”) and that was the first time I’d been out to the fleet at sea since we’d started the IDC warfare pin processes. I found it is actually making a big difference. Although the best ship’s teams have always found a successful way to self-organize the N2/N6/CSO/IW team, I found that those on the VINSON wearing the pin displayed an exceptional level of camaraderie and teamwork, no longer so personality-dependent as in the past, and that I came away firmly convinced that we were on the right track with the IDC and the warfare pin, and I have had this reinforced in multiple fleet interactions since. I then finished by saying that the IDC and the Naval Intelligence Community continue to be strongly motivated by and are living up to the legacy of Admiral Mac Showers and our forebears. And in honor of Mac’s role as the reigning living “god-father” of the OPINTEL Community, I presented Mac with my IDC warfare device, and pinned it to his lapel. (I may have to beg someone’s forgiveness for this later, but the applause was worth it.)
So for those Naval Intelligence Professionals who are on active duty; thank you for the extraordinary work you do today and will do in the future to defend our nation. In your no-doubt “copious” free time, however, I highly recommend you take some time to read and reconnect with our legacy – Layton’s book “I was There” and the new book on “Joe Rochefort’s War” are great places to start – and a special call-out to RDML Paul Becker for energizing the Battle of Midway commemorations in Hawaii next month.
For those Naval Intelligence Professionals who came before, rest assured that your legacy is still very much alive in the IDC and the Naval Intelligence Community and Fleet today.
Samuel J. Cox
Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy
Director of Intelligence (J2), U.S. Cyber Command