Deconfliction is a military and engineering term that refers to the process of avoiding mutual interference, or outright hazards, among systems under the control of one's own sides. It is most often used in the context of preventing fratricide, or having weapons hit one's own troops, but it has broader implications.
Denis McDonough, whose first official job with the Obama administration was Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication is now the Deputy National Security Advisor.
SIPSEY STREET EXCLUSIVE: As early as October 2009, officials in both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Drug Enforcement Administration objected through their respective chains of command about weapons smuggling and related confidential informant operations in the Republic of Mexico on the part of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including what the world has come to know as Operation Fast and Furious, according to previously reliable sources familiar with the intelligence operations of the United States.
Because of the refusal of the ATF and FBI at lower levels to allow "deconfliction" with the CIA and DEA, these complaints, according to the sources, were eventually forwarded to the National Security Council of the White House, including Kevin O'Reilly, a State Department employee seconded to the NSC, O'Reilly's boss Dan Restrepo, then Director of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the NSC and Denis McDonough, then NSC's head of Strategic Communication and since then promoted to the Deputy Director of the National Security Council. McDonough, described in one biographical sketch as a "tough guy" and "Obama’s single most influential foreign policy adviser," is also a personal friend and "basketball buddy" of the President of the United States.
The result, said one source, "The word came back from NSC, 'butt out.'"
McDonough is a name not previously mentioned in regard to the Fast and Furious investigation, although it has been established that by March, 2009, Phoenix ATF Special Agent in Charge William Newell was exchanging emails with O'Reilly and that Dan Restrepo was in turn being briefed on those communications by O'Reilly. Yet other sources have recently reported to this writer that O'Reilly, who was suddenly transferred to a State Department job in Iraq when the White House discovered that the Issa committee wanted to talk to him about his contacts with Newell, owes his continued Fast and Furious anonymity to McDonough.
Said the source, "NSC Deputy Director, Denis McDonough is the guy protecting Kevin O'Reilly," adding "DEA knows what O'Reilly did."
According to the latest reports from my sources, O'Reilly remains essentially out of reach of Issa's investigators in Iraq. One source joked that this was an example of "Strategic NON-Communication."
Few people -- and this writer was among them -- are familiar with the term "Strategic Communication." To begin to understand the job that Denis McDonough was initially hired to do for Barack Obama, some definitions are in order:
Strategic Communication can mean either communicating a concept, a process, or data that satisfies a long term strategic goal of an organization by allowing facilitation of advanced planning, or communicating over long distances usually using international telecommunications or dedicated global network assets to coordinate actions and activities of operationally significant commercial, non-commercial and military business or combat and logistic subunits. It can also mean the related function within an organization, which handles internal and external communication processes. Strategic communication can also be used for political warfare.Strategic Communication refers to policy-making and guidance for consistent information activity within an organization and between organizations. Equivalent business management terms are: integrated (marketing) communication, organizational communication, corporate communication, institutional communication, etc. . .In the U.S., Strategic Communication is defined as: Focused United States Government efforts to understand and engage key audiences to create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable for the advancement of United States Government interests, policies, and objectives through the use of coordinated programs, plans, themes, messages, and products synchronized with the actions of all instruments of national power.Strategic communication management could be defined as the systematic planning and realization of information flow, communication, media development and image care in a long-term horizon. It conveys deliberate message(s) through the most suitable media to the designated audience(s) at the appropriate time to contribute to and achieve the desired long-term effect. Communication management is process creation. It has to bring three factors into balance: the message(s), the media channel(s) and the audience(s). . .In the August 2008 paper, DoD Principles of Strategic Communication, Robert T. Hastings, Jr., acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, described strategic communication as "the synchronization of images, actions and words to achieve a desired effect." -- Wikipedia.
"For years, I have counted on Denis McDonough’s expertise and counsel on national security issues. He possesses a remarkable intellect, irrepressible work ethic, and a sense of collegiality that has earned him the respect of his colleagues. I know that Denis will be indispensable to our entire national security team as we continue to protect the American people, and advance American interests and values around the world." -- Barack Obama, 22 October 2010, as he elevated him to Deputy National Security Advisor.
Who, then, is the Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, the Strategic Communicator for Barack Obama?
The meteoric trajectory of his career is simply stated --- perhaps deceptively so, for the public source information on McDonough is fairly lean. McDonough was born on 2 December 1969, in Stillwater, Minnesota, into a devoutly Catholic family (two brothers became priests), one of eleven children of William and Kathleen McDonough. McDonough attended Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, graduating summa cum laude with a history degree in 1992. After graduation, McDonough traveled throughout Latin America and taught high school in Belize, returning to the U.S. to attend Georgetown University where graduated with a MS in Foreign Service in 1996.
After Georgetown, McDonough worked as an aide to the House International Relations Committee from 1996 to 1999, where his specialty was Latin America. From 1999 to 2000, McDonough was a Fellow with the Robert Bosch Foundation of Stuttgart, Germany. During that yearlong fellowship, he worked with the Bundestag in Berlin and the German Chapter of Transparency International in Munich. In 2000, McDonough returned to the States and began serving as a senior foreign policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
After Daschle's re-election defeat in 2004, McDonough became legislative director for newly elected Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado, leaving that position to take a slot as a senior fellow at the Clintonista think tank, the Center for American Progress, from 2004 to 2006 where he certainly ran into another future member of Obama's National Security Council, Dan Restrepo.
While at CAP, he co-authored a report in June 2006, No Mere Oversight: Congressional Oversight of Intelligence is Broken. Given McDonough's later role as the principal keeper of Obama's secrets and reputation, this argument for greater congressional oversight of the Bush Administration is at least heavily and deliciously ironic.
Young Professionals in Foreign Policy fills in some details of McDonough's policy interests during this period.
From July 2000 to December 2004, Denis was Foreign Policy Adviser to Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. In that role, Denis worked extensively on legislation related to the war on terrorism, the response to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, Iraq and the greater Middle East.
Another profile by Joanna Klonsky, Associate Editor, Council on Foreign Relations Blog dated 11 November 2008 tells us:
McDonough has been outspoken on energy and environmental policy. In June 2007, McDonough urged the Group of Eight (G8) to take action to combat climate change, and warned that current levels of development assistance are "woefully insufficient" to help underdeveloped nations deal with climate change. McDonough has also said that the United States should do more to "promote the development of our domestic clean energy sector industry." McDonough said on a Brookings Institution panel in May 2007 that it is "far past time" for the United States to institute a cap-and-trade system mandating "very aggressive reductions" in greenhouse gases, with the goal of an 80 percent reduction over 1990 levels by 2050. McDonough told a March 2008 Brookings Institution panel that the United States should "set a clear deadline" for troop withdrawal from Iraq in order to reduce the federal budget deficit and help solve the current economic crisis. He also said setting a deadline would send a message to the Iraqi leadership about the urgency of political reconciliation.
When Barack Obama began to run for president in 2007, Mark Lippert, his chief foreign policy advisor and Navy reservist, was called into active duty for a deployment to Iraq. Lippert's friend and deputy, McDonough was recruited to serve as his replacement during the deployment. From 2007 until the summer of 2008, Lippert served as an intelligence officer for the Navy SEALs. According to my sources, he never regained his special access to Obama, being supplanted by the ambitious McDonough.
The New York Times reported in late 2008 that McDonough would bring to the new administration:
A background in foreign policy, a working knowledge of Capitol Hill and a deep familiarity with Mr. Obama and his foreign policy thinking, having worked closely with him during the presidential campaign. On the campaign, Mr. McDonough helped synthesize the contributions of some 300 foreign policy advisers, divided into teams based on regions and issues, to assist Mr. Obama in formulating and articulating his foreign policy. . . He played an integral role in the planning and execution of Mr. Obama’s trip abroad last summer. Carries as baggage: A lack of executive branch experience, which could make it difficult to navigate Washington’s high stakes world of foreign policy and national security.
The Times might want to have a chance at rewrite of that last line, for from 2006 through the election, McDonough's personal relationship with Obama grew far beyond his bare-bones job title of Obama for America Foreign Policy Advisor. After Obama's election, he joined the administration as the National Security Council's head of Strategic Communication from 2009 to 2010, later serving concurrently as NSC Acting Chief of Staff. On 22 October 2010, Obama announced that McDonough would be replacing Thomas E. Donilon as Deputy National Security Advisor, who was leaving his position to succeed General James L. Jones as National Security Advisor.
At the left hand of Obama, the right hand of Hillary. McDonough, seated, third from right in blue shirt, in the Situation Room during the Bin Laden raid, May 2011. Note, too, that he is seated at the table whereas various other VIPs are standing.
This hagiographic description of McDonough by Helene Cooper ran in the New York Times on 9 July 2010: The Adviser at the Heart of National Security. Considering how little detail it contains it is rather longish, but is worth reading in its entirety. (See The Man Who Wasn't There: The New York Times publishes a weightless profile of Denis McDonough by Jack Shafer.)
SOME of President Obama’s top national security advisers believed late last year that they had reached consensus on an aspect of Afghanistan strategy after meeting with Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser.They should have checked first with Denis McDonough, the National Security Council’s chief of staff. “I don’t think that’s where the president is on that,” Mr. McDonough informed his higher-ups, according to two administration officials.A couple of months later, when state officials in Florida tried to halt medical evacuation flights from Haiti, Mr. McDonough, on the ground in earthquake-stunned Port-au-Prince, got on his BlackBerry, which is never far from his side. Within a few hours, as other officials tell it, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano acted to keep the airspace open.Forget Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. When it comes to national security, Mr. Obama’s inner circle is so tight it largely consists of Mr. McDonough, a 40-year-old from Minnesota who is unknown to most Americans but who is so close to the president that his colleagues — including his superiors — often will not make a move on big issues without checking with him first.“He is the keeper of the president’s flame,” said Cheryl Mills, Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff. Brian Katulis, a foreign policy expert who is a good friend of Mr. McDonough, said, “When the president needs to pick up the phone and call someone on national security, that someone is Denis.”When Mr. Obama got word of the Rolling Stone article that would lead to his firing of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as the top commander in Afghanistan, Mr. McDonough was one of about a half-dozen people he immediately summoned to the Oval Office.Mr. McDonough is intensively protective of the president, and is well known for picking up the phone — or his BlackBerry — to take people to task, from reporters to Washington talking heads to other Obama officials who go off message. He spent the entirety of his bike ride home to Takoma Park, Md., from the White House late one recent night arguing on the cellphone with a reporter who he believed had mischaracterized an internal administration debate over Iraq policy.He has berated some of the Democratic Party’s most distinguished foreign policy dignitaries when they have dared to critique Mr. Obama publicly, leaving a miffed Washington establishment in his wake muttering — off the record, of course — about just who this guy thinks he is.His e-mail messages are legendary across Washington, and usually appear right after a critique hits the Web. When David Rothkopf, a national security expert and Commerce Department official in the Clinton administration, wrote a column for The Washington Post last August that praised Mrs. Clinton — and notably, not Mr. Obama — as overseeing “profound changes” to American foreign policy, the first e-mail message Mr. Rothkopf received came from you-know-who.“Interesting choice for a profile,” Mr. McDonough wrote.“Political figures like to have people who are watching their back,” Mr. Rothkopf said in an interview. “I understand why people are bugged by McDonough; they’re jealous of his access to the president. But the president deserves to have someone like him.”Mr. McDonough declined to be interviewed for this article.Mr. Obama arrived in Washington six years ago as a political outsider, a Chicago novice with no historical ties to the Democratic foreign policy establishment. Early on in the presidential campaign, Mr. McDonough signed up with Mr. Obama.A foreign policy adviser to Senator Tom Daschle before Mr. Daschle’s 2004 election defeat, Mr. McDonough was then at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research organization.HE was all over the country for Mr. Obama during the campaign. Mr. McDonough shoveled the driveway and sidewalk of a Davenport, Iowa, couple as part of an unsuccessful effort to woo them into caucusing for Mr. Obama instead of Mrs. Clinton. He spent so much time canvassing his assigned precinct that by the night of the Iowa caucuses he was greeting most of the caucusgoers by name, prompting his colleagues to start calling him the town mayor. (Mr. Obama won five of the seven delegates in the precinct.)Mr. McDonough looks more like a Town & Country cover model than a Washington foreign policy wonk. At 6-foot-3, he weighs himself regularly in the White House doctor’s office to make sure he does not go above 200 pounds.But early on during the campaign, Mr. McDonough took on the role of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy guru. “Foreign policy was always the high wire for us on the campaign,” one administration official said. President Obama, he said, “trusted Denis to get the job done but not sand down his views.”After the Democratic debate in South Carolina in 2007, when Mr. Obama called “ridiculous” the notion of not talking to America’s enemies, Mr. McDonough and Mr. Obama mulled the ensuing furor in the candidate’s bare Massachusetts Avenue campaign office. Mr. McDonough, according to a former campaign official, “told the president, ‘You have nothing to walk back on your position. You don’t need lectures on foreign policy from the Democratic foreign policy establishment.’ ”The bond they forged during the campaign sealed Mr. McDonough’s role as Mr. Obama’s most trusted foreign policy aide in the White House. Today, many of the old Democratic rivals are in the Obama cabinet, deciding Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran policy. And Mr. McDonough is far closer to the president than they are.AT both the Pentagon and the State Department, officials report being chewed out by Mr. McDonough when he believes they have leaked something before the White House is ready. In recent months, Mr. McDonough has mellowed, his colleagues say. In fact, he began 2010 telling reporters that he was going to make an effort to be nice, and now routinely mentions that he will not blow up during his almost nightly phone calls to dispute articles.At the White House, Mr. McDonough presses the East Wing to make sure that junior members of the National Security Council staff are invited to receptions and parties.In an interview, General Jones said he could not recall when Mr. McDonough told him and other officials that their evolving consensus on Afghanistan policy was not where Mr. Obama wanted to go. But “as a generic anecdote, I’m not bothered by that; it’s what I expect him to do,” he said.“It’s a big asset for all of us to have Denis, who has known the president for so long,” General Jones said. “He knows how he thinks about issues.”
Of course, that was before General Jones' departure as National Security Advisor, an event that McDonough is reported to have done his level best to arrange.
IrishCentral.com calls McDonough "the Irish American closest to President Obama."
The Irish American closest to the president, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, 40, describes it as "a great blessing to work with Obama and for the American people.”
Denis McDonough is also chief of staff of the National Security Council (NSC). He works in a small office close by the president and is considered a key inner circle advisor. . .
McDonough accompanied the first family to Hawaii last Christmas. He is six-feet-two, and frequently plays basketball with the president. . . “When my mom and dad got married, they lived in south Boston, which is where the first six of my brothers were born. After that they moved to Minnesota, which is where the other five of us were born. So there’s 11 of us.”
He is deeply Catholic and two of his brothers are priests. Asked what being Irish in America is about he answered: “In a lot of ways, in the first instance it means being Catholic.” . . McDonough clearly has the president's ear.
“I provide my advice to him in private and I can tell you that there’s a lot of times when I provide advice that he ignores,” McDonough told The Irish Times. “The American people have an expectation that you will keep them safe."
“The president understands and takes that expectation very seriously. What we’re not going to do is stand up and brag about that fact. We do it every day. So we’ll just keep doing it . . . It’s the determined Irishman in me.”
Obama has used McDonough's Catholic connections to attempt to finesse difficulties with the Church over abortion, contraception and the health care mandates. McDonough kelped arrange and accompanied the Obamas on their visit to meet Pope Benedict in Rome in July 2009, where both McDonough and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs "kissed the Pope's ring, and Obama introduced his national security aide: 'This is Denis McDonough. His brother is a priest.'"
Robert Gibbs, Denis McDonough and children walk across the South Lawn of the White House to Marine One on 12 September 2009 in Washington, DC to accompany the President to a health insurance reform rally in Minneapolis.
McDonough is not perceived as being a particular friend of Israel, however, as this article in the New English Review asked: Are Obama Loyalists at the NSC Fomenting a US Israel Intel Crisis over Iran’s Nuclear Intentions?
McDonough's contributions to Obama are summed thusly by Potusphere.com:
McDonough is the president's protector, the guardian of his image, and the "tough guy" who routinely admonishes and berates those (journalists, high-level officials, wonks) who he believes have strayed from the message or spoken unjustly of the president. Obama and McDonough's close link dates back to the early days of Obama's presidential campaign when McDonough, formerly at the Center for American Progress and previously advisor to Tom Daschle, quickly signed on despite Obama's outsider novice status. He vigorously campaigned for the president and helped him to navigate Washington and the Democratic policy establishment.
The Washington Independent is even more fulsome in its praise:
When the history of the first Obama term is written, McDonough’s name will ring out. Despite an mundane-sounding position as chief of staff for the National Security Council, McDonough could be Obama’s single most influential foreign policy adviser. There is no geopolitical issue on which McDonough does not have Obama’s ear. That goes back to the campaign trail, when the former Center for American Progress scholar and aide to Sen. Tom Daschle became the lead manager, exponent, intellectual foil and coordinator of Obama’s foreign policy message. McDonough’s position at the NSC ensures that the White House will remain at the center of foreign policymaking. If McDonough leaves the White House or the administration entirely, no single adviser could likely replicate McDonough’s close relationship with the president.
These latest reports linking McDonough with Kevin O'Reilly and the "deconfliction" decision subsequent to the complaints by the DEA and CIA about gunwalking into Mexico place responsibility for the Fast and Furious scandal directly where many observers had suspected all along -- at the threshold of the door to the Oval Office.