Inside the Looking Glass: A peek at the DIA’s eye on the world

WTOP’s J.J. Green recently was granted an exclusive look at the Defense Intelligence Agency’s situation center. In this three-part series, he talks with DIA Director Michael T. Flynn about the agency’s global monitoring capabilities, the threats facing the United States and the future of intelligence efforts.

WASHINGTON – He takes his ID badge and swipes twice at the key card reader. He pulls the door and, with a heavy click, it separates from the locking device and opens.

Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), steps in and ushers a WTOP reporter into a place that no journalist previously had been.

“This is our global operations center …,” Flynn says. “This is kind of our situational awareness room and the responsibility of the folks in here is to maintain as high a level of situational awareness about things going on around the globe as they possibly can.”

The center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in part because the DIA has personnel in 240 locations around the world, many of whom are involved in intelligence-gathering operations.

Prior to Flynn’s arrival in the center, word got out that he was coming with a guest. The scramble to secure the room is still in progress as Flynn enters, computer screens and video monitors fading to black as personnel try to sanitize the huge, high-tech room.

Personnel hastily turn over documents and hush their conversations. Some even walk away from the area where Flynn is standing and talking.

“We have all the screens off right now, so you’re looking at a 36-panel flat-screen display,” he says, describing the agency’s intense effort to stay ahead of global threats to the U.S.

Even though the screens are dark, the sheer number of video-feed panels, the abundance of double-monitored computer screens and the center’s organization speak volumes about the DIA’s commitment to not be taken by surprise.

“They’re viewing different pieces of information from different parts of the world,” Flynn says. “So they’re looking at Pacific Command, they’re looking at Africa Command, they’re looking at the Middle East.

“From this location, we do our cyberdefense activities and we monitor our systems.”

The personnel in the room are both military and civilian, including federal intelligence agency partners. All of them, Flynn says, are “amazing.”

“The talent in here, the quality of the people we have in here, is unbelievable,” he says. “I could never compete if I was a young person coming in with (the training) I had in the past, just because of some of the folks that we have.”

Flynn describes the center as a “big ol’ aorta coming out of the heart of this organization.”

“It pumps information out all the time,” he says. “And so if I need something, if I’m not here, I can always call back to the situation center.”

That call can be made in a highly secure manner, even when Flynn is at home.

“I live on a military base. It’s a convenience because when you’re in these jobs, it’s a 24-hour-a-day job, and that’s great, it’s what drives me,” he says. “There is a capability in my quarters that I have to be able to pretty much access all the things that I need to access — phones, communications, email, things like that.”

With that comment, Flynn turns and says, “We have to head back.” A high-ranking foreign counterpart is waiting for him in his office.

The three minutes and 45 seconds inside the DIA window on the world are an eye-opener.

Thursday in Part 3: The threats facing the U.S.

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