Ronald Kessler reporting from Washington, D.C. — Now we are seeing finger pointing in the press between the Office of National Intelligence Director (ODNI) and the CIA over the incorrect claim that protests over a YouTube video led to the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi.
Regardless of which agency was most at fault, the spectacle provides yet another reason to abolish the ODNI.
The 9/11 commission recommended the appointment of a national intelligence director with budgetary authority to better coordinate the work of the intelligence community and resolve differences.
As proposed by the commission, the national intelligence director would not head a major agency. Rather, the appointee would have a “relatively small staff of several hundred people, taking the place of the existing community management offices housed at the CIA,” according to the commission’s report.
President Bush and Congress endorsed the national intelligence director proposal, and the office was created in April 2005. However, rather than having a staff of several hundred, the national intelligence director has ballooned into an agency with 1,500 employees. They are housed in a new building next to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) in McLean, Va.
While a small segment of those employees work for the NCTC, which is vital, the rest of the agency has done virtually nothing to enhance the intelligence effort.
That point was symbolized when Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. admitted in a December 2010 interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer that he was unaware of the arrests of 12 terrorists in London. It had been all over the news for most of the day.
The embarrassing lapse spotlighted the folly of creating a bureaucracy on top of operational agencies already on the alert for terror threats.
In my book “The Secrets of the FBI,” Arthur M. “Art” Cummings II, who headed FBI counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations, offered a candid assessment. He said the ODNI often gets in the way and produces little of value to the bureau.
Most of the time, the national intelligence director’s office asks for special reports from the CIA and other agencies. What becomes of them is unclear. Indeed, a report by the national intelligence director’s former inspector general, Edward Maguire, said a majority of national intelligence employees his staff interviewed were themselves unable to articulate a clear understanding of the office’s role.
“The intelligence community operators are doing a good job,” Cummings says. “It’s the massive bureaucracy around them that slows things down and frustrates the effort. You have this big planning machine generating endless meetings. We would walk out of the meetings shaking our heads.”
While the ODNI is responsible for presenting intelligence to the president, it comes from the CIA. The ODNI massages it, adds its own assessments, and often delays making timely adjustments as new information comes in.
That is the problem. As we are seeing with the intelligence on Benghazi, no one is responsible when everyone is responsible. Disbanding the ODNI would make the intelligence community more accountable and agile while eliminating a wasteful federal bureaucracy.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is the New York Times best-selling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.
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