Assessment of the Position of Director of National Intelligence

Corruption, Government, InfoOps (IO), Intelligence (government), Law Enforcement, Military, Officers Call, Policies, Threats
Richard Wright

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission) was created to examine how the terrorist attacks of September 2001 could have occurred and what could be done to prevent future attacks.  Among other things the Commission recommended that there should be a National Intelligence Director who would have “two main areas of responsibility” namely:

1) to oversee intelligence centers on specific subjects affecting national security; and

2) to oversee the national intelligence program and the agencies that contribute to it.

In effect the Commission wished to have a single authority that could that could task and co-ordinate the processes and operations of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). The U.S. Congress was more or less forced to act on this specific recommendation because of public pressure. Thus the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) was created by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

In April 2005, Ambassador John D. Negroponte, former Ambassador to Iraq, was sworn in as the first DNI.  Negroponte was chosen because no qualified candidate from the so-called IC was willing to take the job. In truth, the DNI was forced on the Federal Government by outside forces and began with no support either in the Congress, the Executive Branch, or the so-called IC. Indeed President Bush made it clear that he considered the DNI unnecessary. The position of DNI had responsibility for, but no authority over the IC, had no ready made constituency within the government, and was considered an unnecessary intrusion on intelligence operations by the principal members of the IC.

From the first there were structural difficulties for the DNI position. The IC over which the DNI was supposed to ‘oversee’ is a fiction that does not actually exist. The 16 odd intelligence centers that fall under the rubric of the IC actually are pretty independent organizations that do not answer to the DNI. To maintain the fiction that the DNI actually has some sort of association with the IC the DNI organization chart lists the IC members as components or “program managers.

Under the meaningless title “Departmental Components” are the intelligence functions of the Department of State (INR), Department of Treasury, and Department of Energy, Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security all of which are controlled and budgeted through their respective executive branch secretaries and their intelligence output is directed towards parochial departmental interests. Under the equally meaningless title of “Service Components” are located the intelligence commands of the five military services are similarly controlled by their service chiefs and operate in support of their respective services.

The only dedicated national intelligence agencies within the IC are carried by the DNI under the title “Program Managers” and are the Office of DNI (ODNI), CIA, DIA, NGA, NSA, FBI (detached from DOJ) and the NRO. Of these DIA, NGA, and NSA are part of the Department of Defense (DOD), the FBI is a semi-autonomous law enforcement cum intelligence agency under Justice, and the NRO is a virtually autonomous agency that serves as the program manager for the design and construction of collection platforms primarily for the NGA and NSA.  That leaves CIA which operates the National Clandestine Service (NCS) overseeing the collection of human intelligence (HUMINT) and foreign liaison connections and is also the producer of all source national intelligence. While in theory if not in statute the DNI should be able to exercise authority over CIA, in practice CIA has always had the ear of the President and National Security Council so DNI has been pretty impotent over CIA.

Then there is ODNI which is under the DNI. In keeping with the original 9/11 Commission declaration that DNI should “oversee intelligence centers”, the DNI created a series of centers or ‘executives’ to address what are considered serious and ongoing issues.  Of these the two most prominent are the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) and the Counter Proliferation Center (CPC).  In addition the National Intelligence Council (NIC), its staff, and responsibility for the productions of National Intelligence Estimates were transferred to ODNI from CIA. These three components appear to be the principal base for the DNI.

The problem of course is that the staffing of the NCTC and CPC is made up of ‘analysts’ from CIA, NSA, NGA, and presumably from DIA. Since it is an article of faith with all U.S. senior intelligence managers that all analysts are exactly the same no one at ODNI bothers to vet the analysts the other agencies have provided for its centers. As a result such supposedly vital centers like NCTC are largely staffed by those analysts that could be ‘spared’ from the other agencies. As for the NIC, as Mel Goodman noted in a perceptive article in Truthout, it was created in 1973 by then CIA Director James Schlesinger to replace the Office of National Estimates (ONE) that had served CIA and the Nation so well. The NIC was designed to be more politically tractable than ONE. Within the ODNI the NIC and its NIEs have been pretty well buried. So the base of the DNI is at best a weak foundation.

The latest appointee to the position of DNI, General James Clapper (USAF ret.) brings considerable intelligence and managerial experience to the job, but how effective he will be will be pretty much up to President Obama and his principal intelligence advisor John Brennan.  So far it does not look promising. General Clapper did succeed in theory at least in acquiring partial budgetary authority of the NSA and NGA, but the jury is still out on whether he can actually exercise that authority or not.

Phi Beta Iota: Then there is the matter of the number of contractors hired to perform inherently governmental jobs at which the government is not longer qualified; the billions of dollars wasted on vendor vapor-ware that is dead on arrival (Trailblazer by SAIC is just the tip of the iceberg); the constant churning of the cleared personnel pool because no government manager has the guts to stabilize and penalize (e.g. loss of clearances for premature departures); and finally, the raw fact that the secret world is largely irrelevant to policy, acquisition, and operations at the same time that no one in the US Government is competent at “Global Coverage” in all languages and all sources that are openly available.  The US has no strategy, no Whole of Government policy process, no Whole of Government planning, programming, budgeting, and execution process, and zero accountability to the taxpayer for all that is done at taxpayer expense, in the taxpayer’s name, more often than not against the public interest.  Non-military threats including poverty at home, no warning system for infectious diseases, and a truly daunting proliferation of toxins and carcinogens in public water and public food all loom.  The USA enters 2011 in dire straits.

See Also:

Reference: Anthony Cordesman On Intelligence

Journal: Jim Clapper in Untenable Position

Journal: Joe Mazzafro, USN (Ret), on IC Performance

Journal: Can’t Get No Satisfaction from US Intelligence Community…

Journal: Two Denied Area Intelligence Failures

Reference: Fixing Intel–A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan

Journal: Underpants Bomber Shines Light on Naked USG–Without Four Reforms, USA Locked in Place