By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2013 – As the Defense Department faces what he called “the most consequential period for defense intelligence in perhaps a generation,” the nominee for a senior Pentagon intelligence post told Congress the decisions made today will have long-term security implications.
“The choices we make now, as we draw down from 10 years of war and reshape our enterprise to meet new strategic and budgetary challenges, will set us on a multi-decade trajectory for our defense intelligence capabilities,” Marcel J. Lettre II told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing as principal deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
That, Lettre said, makes this “a critical period of challenge and opportunity” for DOD and the intelligence community.
Lettre, who has served three defense secretaries – Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and now Chuck Hagel – said that if confirmed, he will maintain three major priorities in supporting Hagel, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael G. Vickers and the entire defense intelligence community as they navigate those waters.
The top priority, Lettre said, will be to provide the best intelligence possible to those fighting current operations and possible contingencies in the near future.
“The defense intelligence community must maintain its focus on the needs of our deployed men and women,” he told the panel. This involves “conducting an incredible range of intelligence-driven, precision operations,” he said, and also providing the president and senior national security team “the best intelligence possible to address today's threats.”
Another priority, Lettre said, is to prepare for a challenging period of budget uncertainty. “This will require us to become leaner [and] to trim overhead, reduce duplication and shed underperforming activities,” he said. “It will not be painless or pretty,” Lettre acknowledged, “but we must make tough choices and become stronger and better, even as we become smaller.”
Meanwhile, DOD must “push vigorously to innovate and invest,” Lettre told the panel.
“Even as resources fall, we must sharpen the impressive capabilities that keep America's superior technological edge and protect its advantages over its adversaries,” he said. “That means strengthening capabilities in counterterrorism, cybersecurity and countering weapons of mass destruction. We must ensure we maintain global reach and global understanding.”
Advancing these priorities will require a close partnership between defense intelligence leaders and Congress, Lettre said, noting that he hopes to play an active role in promoting.
“We must implement our priorities in defense intelligence while also being ever vigilant about the need for vigorous protection of the principles, rights and freedoms from which America gains its strength,” he said. “Those of us privileged to serve in these positions of responsibility recognize that we owe our citizens and our families our full focus and our full energy on keeping the nation safe and secure.”
Asked about reforms required in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, Lettre said episodes over the last several years have “pointed to a need to take a hard look at our security clearance and security processes.”
Lettre noted this week’s tragedy at the Washington Navy Yard that left 12 employees dead. He said he fully supports Hagel’s decision to have Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter launch an immediate review of facility security and security clearances and to stand up an independent panel.
If confirmed, Lettre said, he plans “to take a strong role in doing what I can to be of support to those reviews.”
Lettre also acknowledged that DOD will need to take a hard look at the role of contractors in the intelligence community, and their responsibilities and accountability regarding security clearances.
Also testifying at today’s hearing was Deborah Lee James, nominated to be the next Air Force secretary; Jessica L. Wright, the nominee as undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness; and Kevin A. Ohlson, nominated as a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.