Lieutenant General James Clapper, Good Luck Sir.

DNI... just a dream?

When Dennis C. Blair resigned as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in May, the intelligence community, Congress and the rest of the federal government were left to wonder: “is the position of Director of National Intelligence feasible?” Since the creation of the position in 2006 – I will go into more detail about this in the following paragraphs – four men have held the post. For a Cabinet-level position, four different appointees is not a healthy turnover rate. So as we watch the newest nominee – Lieutenant General James Clapper – go through the nomination process today, it is time to start thinking about the hard questions revolving around the US intelligence community and the position that is entrusted to keep all the 16 individual agencies in line. Does the DNI have enough power to press people into following its lead? Can the CIA Chief live without being the end-all and be-all in the intelligence game? And finally, is General Clapper the answer?

Post-9/11, Americans were left to wonder “how did this happen on American soil without the intelligence community knowing?” Congress immediately went to work trying to find an answer to this question. Authorized by lawmakers, the 9/11 Commission produced a long, scathing report on the failures of the intelligence apparatus and recommendations on how to clean it up. Over and over again, the report speaks to the need for “cooperation and coordination” between the different intelligence arms. What resulted from the investigation was the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The centerpiece of this legislation was the establishment of the DNI; someone who could take the reigns of the sprawling intelligence landscape and make sure that everyone got along and shared information. The DNI, for lack of a better metaphor, was to be the study hall proctor for the individual, petulant agencies. The only problem is, the position has not been able to get all of those agencies in their seats, let alone tell them what to do.

So what’s the problem here? Why can’t the DNI gain traction? Let’s go through the DNIs and why they each left office. It might shed some light on the problems. The inaugural DNI, John Negroponte, left the post in order to allow President Bush to change his strategy in Iraq. Although a seemingly benign rationale, there were already rumors of Mr. Negroponte having trouble getting the spy agencies in line. Next up was Vice Admiral John Michael McConnell. During his tenure as the DNI, Mr. McConnell repeatedly made detrimental mistakes to solidifying his power over the community. In 2007, Mr. McConnell granted an all access interview to the El Paso Times (over-sharing?) and then proceeded to threatened the reporter. In 2008, he directly contradicted Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ assessment of the Afghanistan War. He finally stepped down to return to the private sector in January, 2009 after losing respect in a myriad of difference agencies. Finally, we come to Dennis Blair; the quintessential case study in the failure of the Directorship of National Intelligence.

The Seal of the United States Intelligence Community: the DNI's worst nightmare.

Mr. Blair’s tenure was littered with controversy. Last year, Mr. Blair appointed John Deutch, a former CIA Director who was unceremoniously dismissed from the community for improperly storing top secret information, to a board of independent intelligence overseers; at best a careless oversight, at worst a disregard for protocol. Earlier this year, he told Congress that the Obama Administration did not consult him on the charges brought against Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; inappropriately aired dirty laundry. Most importantly, Mr. Blair continually clashed over intelligence turf – drones in Pakistan, agency budgets, type of tea at meetings, etc. – with CIA Director Leon Panetta.

So what does this all mean? First, it means the DNI may be the hardest position in the Cabinet to hold. Whether it be controversy or territorial clashes, the DNI seems to be continually impeded by something. Second, something clearly needs to change in order for a person to step into this Directorship and get things done. No one has been able to succeed and these men have been more than qualified and competent. Third, and most importantly, the CIA must understand – for the good of the intelligence community – that it is no longer running the show. THIS will undoubtedly be the hardest sell.

As we watch this newest (and unluckiest?) man go through the nomination process for the DNI, we can only cross our fingers that he will be the study hall proctor we have been waiting for. In order to stop the extremists – who are, no matter your politics, out to hurt Americans – from attacking this country, we need a healthy and capable intelligence community. The DNI can only help this cause. So, Lieutenant General Clapper, good luck. I’ll be rooting for you.

  1. frederick bauer
    November 12, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    I think the united states communications field should be redesigned so that they cannot be comprimised, also I would like to see all united states citizens recorded from birth to death making an actual history of our nation, the field has been comprimised by many for too long and law enforcement cannot compete with all of the unsolved crime, I would like to see the United States Marshall Office to be in charge with overtaking the current field of the United States and have the Intelligence Community decide the new heirarchy asap

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