Interview of the Director of National Intelligence, Mr. Mike McConnell, by Charlie Rose on PBS = January 8, 2009

 

 

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Interview of the Director of National Intelligence, Mr. Mike McConnell, by Charlie Rose on PBS 

January 8, 2009

 

 

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 Dr. Thomas Fingar
 
 
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OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR

OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE

WASHINGTON, D.C. 20511

 

Mr. Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence

 

 Director of National Intelligence J.M. McConnell on Innovation in the Intelligence Community  
 
Subject: Office of the Director of National Intelligence – Interviews Update
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Interview of Mr. Mike McConnell

Director of National Intelligence

The Charlie Rose Show – PBS

January 8, 2009

MR. CHARLIE ROSE: Welcome to the broadcast. Tonight, the person who coordinates all

American intelligence and the man who briefs the President of the United States everyday. Mike

McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence.

DIRECTOR MIKE McCONNELL: I’m concerned about and I worry about is through cyber

means, the right kind of sophistication, undeterred by the result, meaning if your intent is to

destroy data you could impact global finance, you could impact electric power, you could impact

transportation, there are all kinds of things that you could cause strategic damage to a nation.

And we’re the most vulnerable because we’re the most dependent upon it.

CHARLIE ROSE: Mike McConnell for the hour, next.

*****

CHARLIE ROSE: Mike McConnell is here. He is the Director of National Intelligence. The

Office of the Director of National Intelligence oversees and coordinates the 16 agencies that

make up the United States Intelligence Community. Six mornings a week he personally delivers

the President’s Daily Brief, telling the President what is going on around the world.

Director McConnell served in the U.S. Navy for 29 years, 26 of them as a career intelligence

officer. During the Clinton administration he served as Director of the National Security

Agency.

The Office of DNI was created in 2004 when Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and

Terrorism Prevention Act after serious concerns about the CIA and events leading up to 9/11 and

the erroneous intelligence about Iraq.

Here is what the President told Charles Gibson about his understanding of intelligence leading up

to Iraq.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the

intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons

of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t just people in my

2

administration. And, you know, that’s not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been

different, I guess.

CHARLIE ROSE: President-elect Obama is expected to announce that he will choose retired

Admiral Dennis Blair to be the new DNI and former Congressman and White House Chief of

Staff Leon Panetta as the new CIA Director.

This evening we want to look ahead with Director McConnell to the challenges of the future, talk

about CIA intelligence reforms, misperceptions of intelligence, and what he has learned from

mistakes of the past. I am pleased to have him here at this table for the first time. Welcome.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Thank you, sir.

CHARLIE ROSE: It’s a pleasure to have you here.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Delighted to be here.

CHARLIE ROSE: You will be at your desk until the new President walks into the White House,

I assume.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Yes, sir. I will.

CHARLIE ROSE: And when does the transfer take place from you to the new DNI?

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Twelve noon on the 20th of January. There’s a possibility if

confirmation is not complete by that time, it could go for another day or two, but by the end of

this month I’ll be in the private sector.

CHARLIE ROSE: You said interestingly that this is a 24×7 job.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Yes, it is.

CHARLIE ROSE: You work from 4:00 o’clock in the morning until about 11:30 at night. And

the thing that it demands the most is stamina.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: True. Very true.

CHARLIE ROSE: Tell me how you see the world. What factors are converging on us that will

influence not only this country but every country?

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: I think first of all, Charlie, it is a shrinking globe, a globe that is

being made smaller by technology. Just think about it for a second.

We can move information halfway around the world or completely around the world in less than

a second. We can move a person halfway around the globe in 12 hours. So it’s the fact that we

3

have to recognize that it’s an interconnected, globalized world and problems in one area can very

quickly be problems in another area.

As we forecast for the future, the relative position of the United States, the United States is the

most powerful nation on earth. It’s a $14 trillion economy and the next player is a distant

second. As we go forward, relatively speaking, particularly with the shift of wealth from West to

East — the first time in our lifetime or in the last century we’re going to see a shift in that power

to India and to China.

CHARLIE ROSE: And you in fact said that by 2025 China’s economy will be probably the

second largest economy in the world?

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Probably second largest, and a little bit after that it will be the

largest economy in the world. They will surpass the United States.

CHARLIE ROSE: Other factors that you look at in terms of this shift of wealth, the most

dramatic shift of wealth has taken place not only to Asia, but to the Middle East.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: That’s true.

CHARLIE ROSE: What’s the impact of that?

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: It has significant impact. One of the things we worry about are

sovereign wealth funds and how they will be used and how they’re invested. Some of them are

very transparent. You go to the northern tier of Europe, very transparent. If you go to the

Middle East, there’s no transparency at all. Will they be used for political purposes?

We will have, I would forecast, a conflict between nation states over energy resources. Let me

just use China as an example. China today produces about 75 percent of their power from coal.

The problem with coal is it poisons the atmosphere, poisons the soil. They produce about ten

percent of their energy resources from oil. They’re going to import about ten percent. But the

growth of imports in China outstrip all other nations. China is going to have to have more

resources in terms of petroleum products from outside China. That’s going to cause stress and

competition for those resources.

CHARLIE ROSE: They’re going to be out trying to sew up all the energy resources they can

possibly find and possibly contract for.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: I would, if I were speaking to my Chinese counterparts, my

interlocutors, I would say that a little bit differently. I would say it’s in China’s interest and it’s

in the United States’ interest to have a stable environment where energy resources are managed

in the most productive way. So we will eventually have to go to alternative sources of energy.

That probably will take a long period of time, so we should manage the process with stability and

prosperity across the various players. It could be done that way. But notice, most regions where

there is oil, there is some level of conflict or authoritarian rule or some set of issues. And quite

frankly, that often fuels many of the problems we have today. I would use Iran as an example.

4

CHARLIE ROSE: I’ll come back to Iran, for sure.

There is also the issue of demographics as population changes. There is the issue of food prices.

And there is the issue of scarcity of water.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Indeed.

CHARLIE ROSE: How does that impact and what will that do to the changing relationship

between countries?

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Let me start with demographics. Sort of the major centers.

China is in for, in a relatively short period of time, a major impact from demographic trends.

They’ve had a one child policy for a long time and it’s about to hit and hit in a big way, so just

think of it as a cliff.

Japan’s in the same situation.

CHARLIE ROSE: Mostly an older population.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: An older population. Think of it this way. If you have a healthy

balanced society you have older people at the top, a broader base of working people, and the

younger working people are supporting those at the top. We’re going to see this start to tilt a bit

with regard to China, potentially Japan, and Europe.

CHARLIE ROSE: And Russia.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: I was going to add, especially Russia. Russia, of the industrialized

nations, Russia is one of the few where life expectancy is declining as opposed to getting longer.

Now the two major regions of the world in terms of economic impact where the demographic

trends are not in a negative way are the United States and India. India because of the birth rate;

and the United States because of immigration.

CHARLIE ROSE: How about the Middle East?

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: There is a youth bulge, so it’s not as much of a demographic

problem. In my view the problem in the Middle East is distribution of wealth so that those at the

bottom of the social structure have opportunity for advancement, education, being a productive

member of society. My belief is that’s where those who wish us harm in the context of

radicalism or terrorism and so on, that’s mainly where they recruit from. That’s not to say that

all the terrorists are illiterate or unfortunate. That’s not the case. Many of the leadership came

from the elitist ranks.

5

CHARLIE ROSE: Do you believe that between now and 2025 which has been the kind of

measurement time for you in some of the studies that I’ve seen, that there is a rising possibility

of conflict?

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: I do. There is a rising possibility of conflict between nations over

energy resources. You mentioned water. Particularly water. There are going to be nations in the

world that do not have enough water that’s potable for drinking and cooking, and also not

enough water for irrigation to grow sufficient crops.

CHARLIE ROSE: On a particular continent, or where?

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: The most impact will be the northern tier of Africa in the near term,

and also in the Middle East. That’s where it will hit first.

CHARLIE ROSE: We have the worry of Iran and nuclear weapons which I want to talk about.

But you have also argued or suggested that the risk of nuclear weapons being used, using your

words, is grayer in the future than it is today.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: That’s true. We normally talk about it when we have a forecast or

a dialogue with the Congress or a set of members in the executive branch in terms of weapons of

mass destruction. I would put four items in that area.

First is biological, then chemical, then nuclear, and what surprises many people, then cyber

weapons, the ability to degrade infrastructure. Of those four, the most likely is biological; the

least likely is nuclear. But it is going to increase in likelihood from now until 2025. It’s a very

small percentage, but —

CHARLIE ROSE: The percentage of likelihood? The percentage of —

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: A small likelihood that it will happen, but it is an increasing

percentage.

CHARLIE ROSE: How do you measure that?

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Probably the best way to say it is informed judgment. We have

analysts who study these things and trends, and we have engaged. When we produced this

estimate that we do every four years we try to publish it at the end of November or December

before the President is sworn in for the new term, and the attempt is to try to serve the executive

branch and the Congress in a way that says here’s our best guess at the unclassified level on what

to expect over the next 20 years. We just published that in November. It’s on the web site.

Anyone can download it.

Interestingly, as sidebar, when we publish it there’s no protection for it so it becomes a best

seller in foreign countries as soon as they can translate it. (Laughter).

CHARLIE ROSE: And you know at least governments are buying it for sure.

6

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Indeed.

CHARLIE ROSE: Everybody who talks to the person who briefs the President every day about

intelligence has this one question, everybody. What keeps you up at night? What is the big

worry for you? Because you see all the bad news.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: There are a number of things. Let me just put it in the context of

terrorism, radicalism, someone who is willing to die for a cause being empowered with some

kind of a weapon or capability that could have devastating impact. Now that could be biological,

it could be nuclear, it could be cyber. But we are vulnerable as a society to all those kinds of

threats.

CHARLIE ROSE: Elaborate on cyber.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Most people think about today information technology, the internet,

computers, wireless devices, as wonderful inventions, global communications, instant

communications, efficiency, just-in-time production, and all that’s true. It’s made our lives

much richer and better. It’s increased productivity and it’s had a very tremendous positive

impact.

The more sinister side of it is everything’s connected. If everything is connected it is potentially

vulnerable.

Think about it this way. If you ask most people how does the globe communicate, they would

say, they would pull out a cell phone and they’d say a wireless device. Ninety percent of the

world’s communications is carried on fiber optic cable, either underground or under the sea.

You should think of wireless devices as on and off ramps.

So once you’re in this cyber infrastructure it’s all connected computer to computer. What

happens is, and I’ll just use the financial services industry as an example. We don’t have a gold

standard and we don’t have printed money in the bank. It’s all based on confidence of

accounting entries.

CHARLIE ROSE: Which are made electronically.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Which are not only made and moved electronically, but are

maintained electronically.

Now the banking industry learned a valuable lesson as a result of 9/11 and there are backup

systems and they have alternate control centers and so on. But there is still a level of

vulnerability. To a sophisticated attacker, if that attacker could be successful in scrambling the

data for one large bank you would have an instant catastrophe because you lose confidence in the

system. And one bank’s not confident it can reconcile with another, then things start to grind to

a halt.

7

Actually in this financial crisis that we’re going through, if you’ll look back over the history of

it, you’ll notice how the decisionmakers in the financial world scrambled to save Bear Stearns, I

think it was last March. You didn’t want that to collapse because it creates a cascading effect.

So what I’m concerned about and I worry about is through cyber means, the right kind of

sophistication, undeterred by the result, meaning if your intent is to destroy data you could

impact global finance, you could impact electric power, you could impact transportation, there

are all kinds of things that you could cause strategic damage to a nation. And we’re the most

vulnerable because we’re the most dependent upon it.

CHARLIE ROSE: Does it suggests that people have tried to do this?

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Let me separate it between exploitation of data for information

advantage. That happens every day. There are terabytes of data taken out of the United States,

whether it’s competitive information or banking information or academic information or defense

information. Everything’s attacked. Terabytes are taken. There are over 100 nations in the

world that are sophisticated that have this capability. Think of it as you’re stealing data for some

purpose. Usually competitive advantage.

That’s different from someone who is motivated to destroy data. What I worry about is most of

those stealing it have a vested interest in stability. So there is some level of deterrence that if you

have the ability to penetrate and take, it’s not in your interest to destroy. But if you are someone

like a radical terrorist and you had the ability to do this, you want damage. That’s the part I

worry about. When the level of sophistication reaches a point that there could be strategic

damage to the United States, and that time is not too far off.

Now as a government we’re not organized and focused to be able to address that threat in the

most comprehensive way.

CHARLIE ROSE: But you at the same time have technology advantages in this country.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Huge.

CHARLIE ROSE: Because one of the strengths of this country and our economy has been the

technology lead.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: That’s right.

CHARLIE ROSE: And some people worry that that lead may not be as wide as it has been A,

because of education and people going back to a whole range of countries; and immigration

policies; and other things.

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Yes. And particularly the fact you can reach into our information

infrastructure and take information out.

MOOR INFO:
 

January 8, 2009: Interview of the Director of National Intelligence, Mr. Mike McConnell, by Charlie Rose on PBS

 

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