CSIA Foundation

One of the DNI’s biggest challenges has been to be recognized as the IC’s CEO

by Anthony L. Kimery
Thursday, 29 May 2008

Three-and-a-half years ago HSToday.us cautioned that the historic, congressionally-mandated reform of the Intelligence Community (IC) did not adequately address the equally as historic impediments to intelligence collaboration like territorial wars, the jealous hoarding of secrets, bureaucratic inertia, and the fear of making career-crippling controversial decisions.

In the ensuing years since the IC was overhauled, indeed, there have been “warnings and indications'—to use the IC’s own parlance—of a creeping return of these hindrances, especially the encumbrance of turf protection, which in particular is rearing its ugly head in reaction to controversial moves by Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell.

One of these moves though was put in motion three years ago by John Negroponte, the first DNI. He designated an intelligence officer that answers directly to the DNI be installed at embassies, military commands, and overseas posts – a position that not just a few times since then has, IC sources told HSToday.us, ruffled the feathers of the traditional turf authority of the CIA’s Chiefs of Station, or COS, the IC’s principal representatives abroad since 1947.

With this conflict, the battle over turf that already was on simmer due to the President’s impending directive on IC power distribution began to boil over. Clearly, the post-9/11 functioning of the IC as it was intended by its congressional overhaul is going to require very stern presidential knuckle rapping.

The White House already is working on a new presidential directive that will be the first executive-level overhaul of the IC’s powers in more than 25 years. Its intent is to cement in place the authorities of the DNI that were left much too unstable by Congress’s reform of the IC—which established the Office of DNI to begin with.

Meanwhile, McConnell is considering an apple cart upsetting directive of his own—on behalf of all future DNIs—that could result in COS’s becoming second fiddle to the DNI’s specially anointed eyes and ears abroad. McConnell is mulling making these DNI reps the principal IC overseers abroad – answerable to the DNI.

Not surprisingly, this has the CIA bureaucracy very spiffed, as Harvey called an inebriated gentleman in conversation with Elwood P. Dodd.

But just creating the position of DNI removed the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) from being the IC pack leader. It also took away considerable IC hiring and firing and budgetary authority from the DCI. And, it took away some of the CIA’s coveted family jewels, like the President’s Daily Brief (PDF) and briefings for the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council.

Turning the PDF over to the DNI was perhaps the most symbolic shift in the balance of power, although it also carried with it not insignificant strategic and tactical intelligence consequences.

Still, Congress left the DNI without a lot of clearly delineated authorities. And that’s what the rewrite of old Presidential Executive Order 12333 supposedly will clear up. Throughout the process, McConnell –again, on behalf of all future DNIs – has sought to 'synchronize intelligence collection' activities abroad. A logical action given Congress’s intent in its overhaul of the IC.

As veteran CIA officer Melissa Boyle Mahle told HSToday.us more than three years ago, the DNI’s power goes to the heart of the “access thing. This is what gives you the power. And in the deciding process of what goes into the President’s Daily Brief, the CIA [had] been able to exert, really, huge influence on how Presidents view national security threats. The CIA will tell you that that [the PDB] represents what the community thinks, but other members of the community will say, ‘no, there’s always been a preponderance of the CIA to rely on CIA-generated intelligence.”

Author of, “Denial and Deception: An Insider’s View of the CIA from Iran-Contra to 9/11,” Mahle is a counterterrorism expert who was the top-ranked female Arabist in the CIA when she retired as a covert officer.

Today, the intelligence that goes into the PDF comes from the whole of the IC, with its many divergent points of view and interpretations – even contrarian positions, like that from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), whose analytical intelligence products have been regarded by many to be superior to those of the CIA.

DCI Michael Hayden told the Associated Press this week that the CIA is willing to cede ground to other agencies at some military commands and in the US, but stressed that the authority and responsibility of COS’s makes them the only logical choice overseas to continue to be the DNI’s reps directing the intelligence operations under COSs’ jurisdictions.

With the Pentagon’s increased role in the global war on terror and in interdicting and destroying WMDs, though, the DNI's apparent desire to have people in place answerable to him who perhaps have more of a sensitivity to military intelligence needs isn’t surprising. The Pentagon inherently has vested interests in tactical intelligence, and for good reasons: Soldiers’ lives are dependant on tactical intelligence. Any decisions made by the DNI that affects tactical, military-valuable intelligence resources will have to be carefully thought out.

As Mahle explained: “The Pentagon has something to say. It’s not all, just proprietary turf stuff. They do have vested interests, they do have reasons why they do things certain ways, and there are reasons for the requirements they are trying to fill.”

The DNI must “especially have the President’s full support when issues come down to military-related ones,” Mahle explained.

'We believe very strongly that overseas CIA station chiefs should be the DNI reps,' Hayden told the Associated Press. 'It's just good government.'

The White House and Office of DNI declined to comment.

Mahle told HSToday.us though that “among the most recognized important challenges [any DNI] will confront in reforming the IC is his ability to ensure that all of its components begin working in unison together as Congress intended by tearing down the long hardened walls of individual cultural mindsets, the respective stovepipes of intelligence collection and authority, turf and resources.”

Referring to the IC’s reform and the DNI’s mission to see it through, Mahle said “it’s a big job,” and she doesn’t necessarily “think they are guaranteed success. There’s an awful lot of things that are going to have to fall into place. It’s going to be long, protracted, and we’re going to hear a lot about turf-related battles that will leak out into the press as people see rearrangements as being a win-lose situation.”

This is exactly what’s happening between the ODNI and CIA. As the AP dispatch accurately assessed, “at stake is the authority of the CIA's legendary station chiefs, who for 60 years have enjoyed a great deal of autonomy in overseas intelligence operations.”

“I can assure it's going to have the CIA up in arms,' Mark Lowenthal, a former assistant director of the CIA, told AP.

Lowenthal said the DCI’s attempt to install his personal windows to the world isn’t necessarily a bad idea – it’s just that the CIA is reacting to it as a threat to its traditional autonomy, which, again, is something the IC reform and its proponents hoped had been washed away with the 9/11 attacks.

Consequently, the rewrite of EO 12333 was inevitable.

As Mahle presciently told HSToday.us three years ago, “the threat of having to have the President run interference is going to be very important, because we’re talking about very well established bureaucratic interests. [The DNI is] going to have to marshal the resources within the IC, and to begin the process of figuring out how to reengineer it so we’ll be more capable to respond to the challenges of the new millennium.'

One of the DNI’s biggest challenges has been to be recognized as the IC’s CEO while at the same time being able to have productive relationships that are not based on turf issues, but rather team issues. In other words, making the best arrangements within the community so that it’s not a win-lose proposition every time the DNI makes a decision.

“What is going to be key for [the DNI] as a leader,' Mahle said, 'is he’s got a lot of issues that he’s got to deal with up front, but the biggest issue is he’s going to have to come out as a credible player, and demonstrate that he’s willing to use the mandate [to reform the IC]. But he has to be careful how he does it, because if he has to go too often to bat – to the Presidential piggybank for influence – it shows that he doesn’t actually rule the kind of power that you need to personally.”

Indeed. The rewrite of EO 12333 will say volumes about not just current DNI McConnell’s gravitas with Bush, but how the Office of the President will view the authority of the office of DNI and the divisions of power within the IC for perhaps generations to come.

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