I’m not interested in politics. Not here, at least. But if we’re going to talk about military intelligence, then we can’t miss considering Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s New York Post story “The military fired me for calling our enemies radical jihadis.” Not because of Flynn’s affinity for the term radical jihadis. Not because Flynn’s is an obviously frustrated critique of his former Commander-in-Chief’s management of the fights in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond. Not because we’re in the strangest run for the White House and control of Congress that any of us have seen for a long time and Flynn’s on a VP shortlist. And not because the timing of all of this synchs nicely with today’s release of Flynn’s book The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies (if you haven’t ordered yours, well …).
We should listen to Flynn’s story because he is one of the most well-informed and convincing voices—if not the most convincing—in the intelligence world today. We should listen because his insights, perspectives and opinions—agree with them or not—are informed by a career in intelligence (which is to say an intimate understanding of the enemy he’s been studying and helping fight since the very beginning) that I can’t imagine being topped. Equaled by some, perhaps, but not topped.
A Complex Intelligence Career
Mike Flynn was Director of Intelligence for Combined Joint Task Force 180, our first response in Afghanistan to the attacks of 9/11. Since then, he directed intelligence for JSOC operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq, for CENTCOM, for the Joint Staff. In his last tour in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010, Flynn came and went with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, which, in my view, is high praise. He then did well enough with the Director of National Intelligence that President Obama picked Flynn as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, where his career came to an abrupt end.
Writing for principals during my last years in the military, I sometimes had the privilege of hearing—and I was always very conscious that I was listening to—some brilliant military leaders and their staffs work out and explain the world in which their forces were operating. Mike Flynn was just one of them, but he was a linchpin working to unravel the insurgency they were fighting, to understand an incredibly complex enemy, to devise a successful counterinsurgency, and to leverage the most advanced and innovative arsenal of technology and intelligence platforms they could wield in the course of a war that continues still today, a war for which there is still absolutely no end in sight.
I remember Gen. Flynn very well. He made a big impression. Immensely respected. Open-minded. Plain-spoken. Frank. Candid. Clear.
We should listen because he’s one of those rare inside voices offering important lessons for anyone navigating the intel world today.