Each month in our SOF Imperatives SITREP we will share an interview with an expert, Washington insider, or policymaker that matters to the Global Special Operations Forces (SOF) Community.


Douglas H. Wise

This month we were pleased to pose some questions to Doug Wise, a former operator, CIA case officer and Station Chief, and finally Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Douglas H. Wise served as Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from August 2014 until August 2016. Following 20 years of active duty in the Army where he served as an infantry and special operations officer, he spent the remainder of his career at the CIA as a senior operations officer. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and other conflict zones he served alongside U.S. SOF.  He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree, and also graduated from the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Wise earned Masters degrees from the Dartmouth College School of Arts and Sciences and from the Thayer School of Engineering, Hanover, New Hampshire.  He also completed a post-graduate fellowship at one of the National Laboratories.  Wise was recently inducted onto the Honorary Board of the international Spy Museum.

The Interview

QUESTION 1: SOF and intelligence operations have worked in closer coordination since the Global War on Terror began. What are your views on what each side brings to the table in low intensity conflict zones like Africa and South Asia?

ANSWER: “First let me say thanks for the opportunity to offer a few observations.  It is an honor and a pleasure to support, even if in a very small way, the critical and important work being done by the Foundation.  Now, let me address your question.  The threats directed against the United States are complex, lethal and likely to be increasing and enduring.  It is very clear that neither DOD, the IC, nor SOF can go it alone in addressing these threats and our experiences since 9/11 prove this is the case. Over the last twenty years, both communities have grown to deeply respect one another’s capabilities and professionalism, and leaders in both communities work hard to mutually support each other.

In the context of the United States’ foreign policy objectives, we are two halves of a whole. When we work closely together, we become more than just the mathematical sum of each of our parts.  The intelligence community (CIA in particular) on the ground represents a powerful force multiplier for SOF, whether in peace or conflict. For deploying SOF elements, CIA represents a long-term, historic presence and access not only to the host nation, but to third country and non-government entities in the Area of Responsibility (AOR). We can work with the DAO to facilitate access to the territory of the host government, particularly if it is territory that requires host nation approvals to allow US elements to operate.  Because we are PCS, we typically have a greater language capability and area familiarity. Because of the fact we are intelligence officers and live in the country, we will have a greater awareness of the local counterintelligence threat as well as knowledge of the potential physical threats to deployed SOF elements.  SOF also brings a capability to complement our efforts.

For example, we can draw upon SOF operators to enhance and enrich the relationships CIA (and the country team for that matter) has with host nation security forces. Mil to Mil relationships are exceptionally critical to our foreign policy and a bedrock of our bilateral relationships with most nations and often SOF is in the forefront of those relationships. SOF has extraordinary expertise in Foreign Internal Development and brings with it a reputation for professionalism, deep competence, and resources which can enhance those critical host nation relationships. This may not be apparent to most members of the country team because for a variety reasons we try to keep some things quiet, but behind the scenes, SOF is building, enabling and creating opportunities for the country team which would not otherwise exist.” 


QUESTION 2: Do you believe this will carry on beyond the GWOT and into the era of peer and near peer competition?

ANSWER: “I would hope so, but I have some concerns that the cooperation and collaboration between our two communities, which I discussed above, could erode. Right after 9/11, large numbers of CIA and SOF elements deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and other combat zones. The leaders and operators from both communities had significant, frequent, and extended opportunities to serve together where we shared the mission and the risks. With major geopolitical changes and the transition to the great powers conflict, it is inevitable that special operators and intelligence community officers will have fewer and fewer opportunities to serve together, learn about each other, become enlightened a bit, dispel mythologies, and grow respect for what each brings to the fight.

Because these opportunities will decrease, if we are not careful our communities could drift back into our respective lanes again and unlearn the hard won and hard learned lessons of collaboration. It is extremely important the senior leaders of today who had those shared experiences work hard to steward the union and collaboration and cooperation between the intelligence community and special operations both on the ground and equally importantly back in Washington, D.C.”  


QUESTION 3: Are there policies you would advocate to improve or increase the coordination, such as elevating the ASD SO/LIC to an Under Secretary level? Or having SOF operators in IC tours as part of their career progression? Or other practices that might bridge that possible drift apart?

ANSWER: “As I look on, as an old special operator myself, I would welcome, for example, for the ASD/SOLIC position to be elevated within the Pentagon leadership structure. Conventional Army leaders still don’t really understand the power, majesty and elegance SOF brings to the conventional fight.  Elevating the position would give ASD SO/LIC a stronger voice within the Pentagon political structure and position him/her to be a more effective advocate for special operations policies, authorities and resources.  We also need the SOF leadership to realize we are no longer fighting the CT fight.

We certainly have to deal with terrorists and this threat will be there forever, but it’s no longer the Global War on Terrorism, it’s better described as a continuum of global counterterrorist operations. Whether we like it or not, we must now transition SOF to fight existential, near-peer adversaries. While we can’t lose the combat experience from the CT flight, SOF structures and authorities have to dramatically change to make them effective in the future fight.  This is already happening from recent modifications to the organization of a special forces group. 

I really like and support the “4th battalion concept” within each special forces groups.  Establishing this organization within a traditional SF group not only economizes on special capabilities but also begins to make special forces groups more relevant to the “gray zone” fight and provide a broader range of capabilities for the great powers game.  I think it adds a range of additional capabilities without eroding the combat power of a traditional special forces battalion.  Growing the 4th battalion set of capabilities is the first step in SOF’s transition to the great powers game. 

I have seen over the last 19 years less and less emphasis on unconventional warfare and this will be critical to the great game as well.  As I said, we are no longer just engaged against terrorists in ungoverned spaces, we are now dealing with China, Russia, potentially Iran or North Korea, all sophisticated threats, in a theater consisting of developed countries where there are US and NATO embassies. Thus, increased training and education of SOF leaders and operators on the role and mission of the interagency and especially the intelligence community is critical to this transition to a new schema of warfare.”


QUESTION 4: Any last thoughts?

ANSWER: “Both SOF operators and CIA officers have fallen in battle and we must ennoble those sacrifices and become better at what we do and more capable; our colleagues paid it forward with their lives. We need to do everything we can as leaders, operators, and even wretched pensioners like myself to weld together our two communities where we have unity of purpose and unity of effort. 

As we execute the current fight and prepare for the next one, we must seek out every opportunity to find ways to collaborate and cooperate and to mutually support each other and invest in each other’s success.”   


Thank you to Mr. Wise for sharing his thoughts for us this month, and tune in again next month for more!