ASPEN, Colo., July 27, 2014 —
Transparency has to be a watchword for the intelligence community if it is to regain the public’s trust, Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said here yesterday.
“What transparency does is, transparency breeds trust,” Flynn told an audience at the Aspen Security Forum. And the intelligence community cannot afford to lose the trust of the American people, he added.
“When it happened in the past, this community got gutted and we failed the country again,” Flynn said.
The damage done by Edward Snowden was terrible, the director said. "This country can sustain big body blows, we will sustain this one, but … there will be risk,” Flynn said.
Since the leaks by Snowden, he said, the intelligence community has worked to correct itself.
“This is about transparency, security, civil liberties, our ability to protect this nation and trust. And I think the most [important] of all those is trust,” Flynn said.
The American public will regain its trust in the intelligence community if they know the community is abiding by laws approved by Congress, the executive branch and the judiciary, he said. There needs to be a national conversation about the role of intelligence, the general added.
Many of the threats and issues the intelligence community deals with every day are likely to be around for a long time, the director said. The nation is not safer for having been at war for the past 13 years, Flynn added.
“We have a whole gang of new actors out there that are far more extreme than al-Qaida,” he said, and they are involved in increasingly complex regional conflicts in places like Syria and Iraq.
And it is a mistake to underestimate these groups, Flynn noted.
"We look at some of these people as if they were in shower shoes and bathrobes, but twice they were defeating the most sophisticated military in the world -- in 2006 in Iraq and 2009 in Afghanistan,” he said. “And they're watching everything that's going on in Iraq as we transition out of Afghanistan."
These individuals have every intention to come to the United States and do damage, the general said.
One of the most dangerous threats that the U.S. faces, Flynn said, is the possibility of a group like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant getting their hands on chemical weapons in Syria.
“So, we're worried about foreign fighters coming out of there, doing attacks here in this country or maybe against our partners, but actually, there's still chemical capabilities in that part of the world and in the hands of people who I know have the intent to use them and we need to be concerned about that,” he said.
Nation-states around the world are being challenged, Flynn said. The world is in a period of prolonged societal conflict, the general continued, and the United States needs to recognize that it cannot win alone.
And while the U.S. will always play an important international role in addressing these failures, he said, it may not always be a deciding one.
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)