Abolish the Office of Director of National Intelligence

Friday, 21 May 2010 10:52 AM

By Ronald Kessler

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As director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair was a disaster.

Blair needlessly picked fights with CIA Director Leon Panetta and often came across as misinformed.

Blair’s most memorable contribution to public discourse was his statement at a congressional hearing that the High Value Interrogation Team (HIG) should have been used to question the Christmas Day bomber. At the time, HIG was not yet operational.

Now that President Obama has wisely asked Blair to step down, Obama could save taxpayers' money by abolishing the agency itself.

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 mushroomed 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.

“The DNI creates work for everybody else and gets in their way,” a former CIA official tells me.

“I still don’t understand what they do that’s productive,” says a former FBI official.

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.

Blair was no match for Panetta, who is close to Obama’s people, has panache, and is savvy about Washington. Despite his lack of an intelligence background, Panetta has won over the CIA by being an ardent supporter of the agency and its mission, by listening, and by leaving operational decisions to seasoned professionals.

Like Panetta, John Brennan, Obama’s chief of counterterrorism, is highly respected within the intelligence community. On Brennan’s recommendation, Obama will likely pick a qualified candidate to replace Blair.

But unless the office of the DNI is abolished, the intelligence community will continue to be impeded by an irrelevant, wasteful federal bureaucracy.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.

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