WASHINGTON — The US intelligence community has begun changing how it handles the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the top American general in Europe.
Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the top military officer at NATO and the head of US European Command (EUCOM), said Friday that the intelligence community has begun reforming itself to better adjust to Russia after nearly two decades of treating the eastern nation as a potential ally, rather than an adversary.
"We are not where we need to be now, and the IC [intelligence community] is addressing it," Breedlove told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. "The IC has already made some fairly dramatic changes in the last several months in how we use our analysts, and they are beginning to look at reprioritizing assets, as well. We're gently turning the nose of this ship to get back to what we need to be looking at."
Breedlove acknowledged a "lack of ability to see into Russia, especially at the operational and tactical level," describing it as an issue based on the US posture toward Russia in recent years.
"I think our nation made decisions over the last two decades that were congruent with our approach to Russia," Breedlove said. "Now we see that, possibly, we didn't have the partner we thought we had, and we're having to readjust. And the IC is doing that, and I'm thankful for that."
He also emphasized that he was not criticizing the decision to focus attention elsewhere, given limited capacity, the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq and the attempts by the US to partner with Russia on a number of military activities.
Unsurprisingly, Breedlove was not willing to get into details about what might be changing on the intelligence front, but his mention of the importance of analysts is notable. For the last two years, top intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) officials in the US Air Force have been sounding an alarm about a lack of human intelligence.
Some in DC have questioned whether the US was caught surprised by Russian actions in both Ukraine and Syria, a charge the intelligence community has flatly denied.
""For several years, the Intelligence Community has provided regular assessments of Russia's military, political, and financial support to the regime," Brian Hale, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said in an emailed statement. "In recent months, the Intelligence Community tracked and reported Moscow's determination to play a more direct role in propping up Assad's grip on power, including its deployment of offensive military assets to Syria. While these events unfolded quickly, the IC carried out its responsibilities with equal agility.
"Any suggestion that the IC was surprised by Russia's military support to the Assad regime is misleading," Hale added.
Hand-in-hand with the intelligence community is the need for ISR support, Breedlove said, indicating that part of his US visit was focused on securing greater ISR apportionment for EUCOM in the fiscal year 2017 budget.
"The building clearly understands my requirement for ISR in Europe, and that's one of the reasons I'm back this week: to work that issue," Breedlove said.
"Our force structure in Europe now is not adequate to the larger Russia task that we now see," Breedlove said.
This story has been updated with comment from the intelligence community spokesperson.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.