Saturday, October 24, 2020

Abolish The Office Of The Director Of National Intelligence (ODNI)

 A sign that this entity should be abolished, and I mean really gone, done in, not with its parts redistributed to other entities, is that it is an an entity defined by its director, not itself.  In preparing to write this post I checked on it, and I thought it was the ONI, the Office of National Intelligence. But, no, it is the ODNI, spelled out as above, really. And it should go.

Why was it ever created in the first place, this unnecessary entity?  It was created in 2005 as a reaction to the failures of the US intel establishment to "connect the dots" in the runup to the 9/11/01 disastrous attack that killed about 3,000 people in a terrorist attack, about 1.5% of the number of people who have died this year in the coronavirus pandemic in the US. Indeed, there were failures of communication between the FBI and the CIA then that helped lead to that attack.  But the creation of a supposedly overseeing entity has not remotely overcome the tendency of these agencies not to share information with each other, even though various politicians at the time thought that it would achieve such a result.

Indeed, this ODNI simply became yet another entity among others, at least 17 others in fact, over which it theoretically has power, but which in fact it does not.  I cannot even name all 17 of those entities, although I know that some of the more important ones are barely known to the US public, such as the NRO and the NGIA (and no, kids, not going to tell you all what they are what they do.  If you do not know, tough). There was never any way it was going to be on top of or direct or do anything useful at all with respect to any of these 17 entities, some of which also should probably go. But none of them as much as what has now become not only a useless entity, but an odious one.

That it is not only useless but potentially dangerous has now become clear as Donald Trump has installed as the Director who justifies the existence of this entity, which is his "Office" after all, John Ratcliffe, five year far right Congressman from Texas with zero intelligence experience, but a record of supporting the most ridiculous conspiracy theories advocated by Donald Trump.  He promised not to be partisan in his new position, but almost everything he has done since his appointment suggests that he was lying when he made that promise.

Two items suggesting this include his affirmation that the New York Post story about a laptop supposedly belonging to Hunter Biden with various scandalous emails on it was not a product of Russian intelligence activity, even as over 40 former US intel officers publicly declared that it seriously looked like that was exactly the case, with this being pretty likely given that the person who provided the emails to the NY Post, Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, was reported many months ago to have been seriously involved with at least one known Russian intel agent.

One might think that given his supposedly high position overseeing all those 17 agencies, Ratcliffe, who arrived in his position very recently, would know more than any of them.  But according to a column in the Washington Post, Oct. 23, by David Ignatius, mot of the 17 agencies are not giving important intel info to Ratcliffe, the DNI overseer, because they do not trust him.  He is isolated and knows nothing, and his agency is being "hollowed out," as anybody with any remote competence is fleeing it as fast as they can.

The more recent example of Ratcliffe showing his utter inappropriateness for such a position was the press conference he held with is nominal underling, FBI Director Christopher Wray, two days ago. He studiously informed us of foreign interference in this US election.  While he mentioned that Russia was doing something, he never specified what it was and moved on from it to what he considered the important item, even though many intel agents are publicly saying that indeed it is the Russian activities that are the most dangerous.  But for Ratcliffe it is this alleged Iran interference that warranted the presser.  Supposedly some emails have been sent to individuals showing knowledge of their addresses and other personal info, supposedly from the Proud Boys, who deny doing so, demanding that the recipients vote for Trump, with these messages mostly in Florida, although a few in some other battleground states. This was supposedly done to create a conflict in the US and doubt about the election, something Trump and Russia would like. And Juan Cole points out that it is sort of bizarre to posit Iran wanting such an outcome or to call for people to vote for Trump. The whole thing stinks, frankly, although as of now we do not know what is really going on with this, even as it looks like the new DNI is playing a blatantly political game in contrast to his promise not to do so.

Given the already too many US intel agencies that are now retreating from dealing with the ODNI, if they can manage it, it is becoming clear that this office never had any chance of doing what it was supposed to do, and simply is getting in the way of those agencies doing what they are supposed to do when they are doing that. It does not connect the dots. This may not matter most of the time, but it does matter when an authoritarian president appoints a flunky hack to be ODNI to cherry pick intelligence to aid this president in his various political activities, which seems to be exactly what is going on now.

I close this by quoting Ignatius from his column:

"As the DNI office has become politicized, it's performing the opposite of what was intended - separating the agencies rather than integrating them. If Biden is elected next month, he should ask whether this bureaucratic behemoth, so susceptible to manipulation, should be scrapped."

Sure looks like it to me.

Barkley Rosser


Fred C. Dobbs said...

There's probably nothing terribly wrong
with having a Director of National Intelligence.

It's at least as worthwhile as having a
Homeland Security Secretary/Department.

It is true that the DNI should never
be an inexperienced political hack/donor
such as the current one, but what
would you expect from Trump? said...

Well, it is a complete waste, and we now see that it is a position that can be abused in a way none of the leaders of any of the individual intel agencies can be. According to Ignatius, now people in these individual agencies are resisting assignment to the ODNi because of its politicization. It was created out of an illusion that it would help things, and there is no evidence of that. It should just go.

And, Fred, your point about DHS may also be valid. Maybe it should go as well. Creating these super bureaucracies can end up damaging the effectiveness of smaller agencies put into them as the new super bureaucrat may have no idea or interest in them, divert resources or otherwise impose stupid mandates on them, and this has been reportedly the case for some entities now stuck in DHS, such as the Coast Guard, formerly focused on safety and now roped half-assedly into stopping illegal immigrants.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

One of the reasons the DNI came to be was
goof-ups back in 9/11/2001, when the one
intelligence agency held on to critical
information that would have confirmed
info that another had. The DNI/ONI is
tasked to prevent such errors. said...

Yes. And it has failed to do so. Just made the problem worse with another layer of intel agencies and confusion. After all, who is supposed to daily brief the prez, CIA Director or DNI?

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Clearly, the incumbent President has
no use for a truth-telling DNI, or
any intelligence that disagrees
with his preconceptions.

Just ask Dan Coates, who by most accounts
was (even as a hardcore GOPerson) an
effective DNI for Trump who was fired
for excessive diligence.

Dan Coats to Step Down as Intelligence Chief; Trump Picks Loyalist for Job

NY Times - July 28, 2019

WASHINGTON — President Trump announced on Sunday that Dan Coats would step down as the director of national intelligence after a fraught tenure marked by tension with the Oval Office, and he tapped one of his staunch defenders, Representative John Ratcliffe, to take over the country’s expansive network of spy agencies.

Mr. Coats, a former senator and longtime pillar of the Republican establishment who angered the president by providing unwelcome assessments of Russia, North Korea and other matters, told Mr. Trump last week that it was time to move on, officials said. His departure removes one of the most prominent national security officials willing to contradict the president.

If Mr. Ratcliffe is confirmed by the Senate, he will offer a starkly different perspective in the Situation Room, one more in line with Mr. Trump’s thinking. Mr. Ratcliffe, a third-term Republican from Texas and a former prosecutor, has embraced Mr. Trump’s theories about the Russia investigation and was among the sharpest questioners of Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel, at last week’s hearings. ...