Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 3:05 PM ET, 05/24/2010

Backchannel chatter: Change the DNI's job

By Jeff Stein

A former key intelligence officer and Hill staffer is offering an interesting idea about the next director of national intelligence.

There shouldn't be a director of national intelligence, for starters.

“The men who tried to govern as directors [of national intelligence] were good people caught in a badly constructed position," said Ronald Marks, who held a number senior positions during a 16-year CIA career. He was also a senior budget director at the National Reconnaissance Office before retiring in 1999.

"The next DNI should be a CNI – a coordinator who is not superior to the other IC [intelligence community] leaders, but someone who can help them speak with one voice about given issues like threats to America and [how to] do their jobs better with higher-level, longer-range thinking and planning,” Marks said.

The “speaking with one voice” part may take awhile.

But back to the coordinating part.

“As coordinator – or perhaps coordinator of national intelligence – the DNI could continue a role at which it is getting quite good," Marks said.

“While not very sexy, there does need to be coordination over how the IC buys big technology. There does need to be some sense made [of] how you develop and hang on to thousands of IC personnel, especially the flood of young people who arrived since 9/11. There is a need for a sensible budgeting structure that looks beyond one year and tries to establish program and budget priorities. There is a need for someone who can study over-the-horizon problems that could affect American intelligence, like new, breakthrough technologies or new fields of battle like cyber space.”

Switching to a long-range coordinating role, moreover, recognizes the obvious, Marks said: “the DNI position itself … is no more than a titular head.”

Reportedly, the front-runner to succeed Adm. Dennis Blair as DNI is James Clapper, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

By Jeff Stein  | May 24, 2010; 3:05 PM ET
Categories:  Backchannel chatter, Intelligence  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Former DIA analysts rip Clapper's leadership
Next: CIA unit's wacky idea: Depict Saddam as gay


The Israelis warned us about creating a "DNI." He would be a man with no troops, no analytical ability, no ability to influence intel gathering on the ground, etc. In other words, he would be bureaucratically impotent. And it turned out that way. This is why Blair tried so hard to hijack the DI from CIA and get authority to appoint Chiefs of Station. He failed.

So, the solution is to return the authority to where it belongs according to the National Security Act of 1947, to the Director of Central Intelligence (Not Director, Central Intelligence Agency).

Let's face it, the 9/11 committee was composed of amateurs, who proposed a cobbled together amateur solution, which was really pablum forced down the throat of an administration which had no choice but to follow along. President Obama can fix that.

Posted by: wjc1va | May 24, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

The DNI should be a sort of "OMB for the Intel community". period. anything more is an over-reach.

Posted by: DCguy7 | May 24, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Agree. The "CNI" should be located in the office of the National Security Advisor where access to the President comes with the job, but not as a competitor to (or boss of) the agency heads. The 9/11 failures didn't result from not having a DNI and having a DNI doesn't mean we won't have another 9/11. Information-sharing with due regard for sources and methods is essential, but that should be pushed by the NSC who are the ultimate users of the product.

Posted by: mike_leavitt | May 24, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse


As I suggested, soon after the PantiesBomber fiasco, the DNI should be eliminated, as should the useless position filled by John Brennan:

"Coordination and communication among agencies in the global war on terror are extremely important. But even more vital is the need for the right tool to be applied to a job. When an incident calls for a counterterror, intelligence approach, that is what should be used. The dysfunctional hyper-bureaucracy created by the 9/11 Commission, including the DNI and the National Counterterrorism Center, should be scuttled. The president’s “terrorism counsel” should be fired.

The solution for terrorist attacks on the homeland is a joint approach between the Department of Defense, and the CIA. The Defense Department is responsible for detaining enemy combatants. The CIA is responsible for interrogation and intelligence exploitation of enemy operatives and operations.

Those two responsible agencies should call on other agencies for their specific skills, when needed. Until we return to a sane bureaucratic solution, America and its citizens will be endangered instead of protected."

The DNI, as much of the "reform" after the 9/11 Commission, was the product of the fevered imaginations of those famed intelligence experts, "The Jersey Girls."

Not a good provenance for real CT or intel reform.

Posted by: ColorMeCapitalist | May 24, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

The solution is to give the DNI the authorities that are needed to do the job.

We've had a Director of Central Intelligence since 1947 who was supposed to coordinate and it resulted in a number of intelligence failures including 9/11. The DCI doesn't have the staff to do both jobs and will always be partisan to their organization - the CIA. The agency believes that they are the only intell agency out there to the point that they don't even admit they exist unless you're on a secure line. That arrogance is what resulted in everybody doing their own thing and information getting lost. The IC is a spoiled child - it doesn't share, it doesn't play well with others and it certainly isn't functional.

As for the comment "The solution for terrorist attacks on the homeland is a joint approach between the Department of Defense, and the CIA." I think the FBI would argue with you on that point. Especially since both the CIA and DOD are prohibited from operating within the US and with good reason.

I've sit in on the working groups trying to develop unified policy and it's like herding cats. Everybody has an agenda and it's not to make the country safer, it's to protect their turf and their budgets. Everybody who wants to go back to the old way had better wake up and smell the coffee. It was changed because it wasn't working, not because somebody got bored. Change happens.

We're operating worldwide in multi-national coalitions with multi-disciplined inteligence operations and the IC better change to support the future or that group of incompetants on the 9/11 commision is going to have to get together again for another failure.

Posted by: geocon62 | May 24, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

So long as we are willing to tolerate a certain measure of independence and freedom for the many intelligence organizations, we will not have the unity of command and action that many would profess to want.

Likewise, we cannot expect a weak DNI to be all knowing, seeing, and controlling. Nor would we have a strong DNI who winks and looks the other way. A strong DNI will bring order and structure to the organization, but at the expense of a certain amount of creativity and innovation and freedom.

These are fundamentally opposed solutions. Our relative security is the key to the answer. The more we feel threatened, the more we will move toward a stronger DNI. The safer we feel, the less comfortable we will be with that solution. Almost nine years later, we've gotten more used to the fear. Until the next surprise. Tick, tick, tick....

Posted by: doubtingthomasovich | May 24, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

Stein, WaPost, Spytalk. "Switching to a long-range coordinating role, moreover, recognizes the obvious, Marks said: “the DNI position itself … is no more than a titular head.”

It wouldn't be a powerless office if it was responsible for evaluating how field officers cooperated with each other AFTER they had sanitized the sources of their particular operation. There are few Intel operations that don't require interaction by several different agencies within the CIA, DOD, and/or State these days and a 'coordinator' that can evaluate the degree of team work or joint success might have an effect on the need for field cooperation. It might be especially effective if the ODNI can award an incremental pay increase that shows up in the career profile of anyone engaged in combined arms/intel processes. Several such merit increases designated by the ODNI in a profile might make an individual, no matter where he is in the Intel Community, eligible for participation in NIC processes as well. Having a career path for analysts and operatives through the NIC who don't won't to be Intel Bureaucrats within their respective divisions might be more effective than having a station chief somewhere try to answer to three different 'commanders' the way they do now.

Posted by: arjay1 | May 24, 2010 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Um, that IS the current problem, the DNI is already just a coordinator.

Posted by: Eludium-Q36 | May 25, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company