In defense of Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn

On Thursday, I met for a final time with Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a 33-year career soldier and the departing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). This is the last of many encounters I have had with Flynn over the past several years in my role as vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  As we spoke, I could not help but think of how wrong some characterizations of him have been.

On April 30, the Washington Post published a story titled: “Head of Pentagon Intelligence Agency forced out, officials say.” The ‘officials’ are not named.  

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The article’s unnamed sources state Flynn clashed with Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (DIA) Michael Vickers and that his vision for DIA was “disruptive.”

I know Mike Flynn, and I know the Washington culture where reputations are destroyed by unnamed officials.

The Mike Flynn I know is honorable, accountable and a true leader. He cares more about people and this nation than most I’ve met.

The Mike Flynn I know has seen the challenges of the Intelligence Community (IC) first hand. He wears nine hash marks on his uniform sleeve, each one representing six months in a combat zone.

The Mike Flynn I know successfully recognized the changes needed at DIA to ensure its relevance to our combatant commanders. I’m sure his changes upset the old guard at the Pentagon or at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) who were comfortable in their “business-as-usual” atmosphere.  But the changes he instituted, along with DIA’s Deputy Director David Shedd, were necessary and have made every American safer.

America has been at war a long time. Flynn and Shedd have taken the lessons learned there to prepare DIA for the next decade.  One key lesson is that the fusion of personnel from multiple intelligence disciplines and from multiple countries produces the best results.  They created regional and functional Intelligence Integration Centers (IICs) to incorporate the analysis, collection, and technical capabilities from DIA as well as other members of the Intelligence Community and allied partners as needed. 

This fusion of capabilities provides intelligence support from the tactical to the strategic level.  I would not call this change “disruptive.”

Another “disruptive” decision by Flynn was in response to the recent spate of national security leaks.  He and Shedd established - well before most of the IC - an Insider Threat Program recently recognized by the ODNI as the “best of breed.” This DIA program is truly cutting edge and reflects the visionary, collaborative, and results-driven culture these two leaders established at DIA.

A common statement of Flynn’s is “Change is no longer an option – it is a necessity for our nation’s security.”

I could not agree more. Flynn has been an invaluable asset to not only DIA, but to our country as well. As he leaves DIA, I wish him the best, and hope America remembers all that he has done for his country and the Intelligence Community.

Chambliss is Georgia's senior senator, serving since 2003. He sits on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; the Armed Services; the Intelligence; and the Rules and Administration committees.