Now that Rep. John Radcliffe has withdrawn from the running to become the next Director of National Intelligence, President Donald Trump has the opportunity to reconsider his options.
Does he want a political DNI? Or does he want someone who understands the intelligence community from the inside?
What if he could get both? Someone who understands the horrible politicization within the intelligence community that has been deeply discredited many of its key recommendations over the past two decades, and someone who also understands how that community operates from the inside?
That person would be Fred Fleitz, who recently left the White House as chief of staff to National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Fleitz currently runs the Center for Security Policy, a conservative think tank that has been at the forefront of the battle of ideas since it was founded by Frank Gaffney at the end of the Reagan era.
From advocating in favor of national missile defense, to warning about the threats of Electromagnetic Pulse, Chinese military modernization, or Islamic Sharia law, CSP has gathered some of the best national security thinkers of the conservative movement and attracted its share of critics, including Never Trumpers and the looney left.
With Fred Fleitz at the helm, the CSP has also gained key insight into the failures of the U.S. intelligence community. And it is this experience that would most benefit President Trump.
This president has long been suspicious of the intelligence community. How many times during the 2016 campaign did he blast the CIA and the FBI for their failures? Candidate Trump argued that the CIA lied President George W. Bush into the 2003 Iraq war, a criticism that was been borne out with the release of the unredacted version of the agency’s 2002 intelligence assessment on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.
This president has never disguised his criticism of the FBI for its failure to fully investigate Hillary Clinton’s abuse of a private email server. Nor has he been shy to let people know his unhappiness with DNI Dan Coates for publicly contradicting the president’s assessments of North Korea, Iran and Russia, after giving him private advice in the White House.
As DNI, Coats inexplicably adopted the Obama party line that Russian election interference was a grave threat to U.S. national security and actually imperiled the 2016 elections.
No it didn’t. Any student of the Cold War understands that what the Russians did in 2016 was rather mild compared to previous efforts to actually suborn U.S. presidential candidates, including an offer in 1968 to finance the campaign of Democrat Hubert Humphrey against Richard Nixon. And does anyone remember Teddy Kennedy’s plea to Moscow to intervene in the 1984 elections against Ronald Reagan? Probably not, because it’s been widely ignored by the media.
Aggressive nation states such as Russia, China and Iran play hardball with their intelligence services. They do not wish us well. Of course, they are spying against us, trying to penetrate our cyber networks and carrying out active measures — black propaganda — against us every day. It’s what they do.
Instead of responding with hysteria as the media has done or with intellectual sloth, as Dan Coates did as Director of National Intelligence, Fred Fleitz has a clear-sighted understanding our enemies and our adversaries forged over decades of direct experience as an intelligence officer, and later, as a national security political appointee.
When he served as staff director at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence under Republican chairman Pete Hoekstra, now U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, he spearheaded a B-Team review of a then-infamous National Intelligence estimate on Iran that had concluded — falsely — that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. He argued that the central failure of the flawed assessment was that CIA analysts were bending the facts to fit their pre-cooked political conclusions.
There is a word for that: the politicization of intelligence, and it’s probably the biggest domestic danger this president faces. (If you don’t believe that assessment, just wait until Attorney General Bob Barr finishes his investigation into the origins of the Russia collusion witch hunt.)
Shortly after Trump’s election, Fleitz argued that the DNI needed to be downsized, restructured and ultimately eliminated. Rather than serve as an overseer and umpire, he argued, “it has become a 17th intelligence agency, with its own intelligence analysts, thousands of employees, and a huge — and ever growing — budget.”
The president doesn’t need someone who will grow the DNI, or who will become its defender in the White House. He needs someone who will tell him the truth about the perils our nation faces.
After its horrible — and possibly, treasonous — behavior during the 2016 election, the intelligence community needs to earn the trust of this president.
Fred Fleitz is someone this president knows he can trust. He is the best man for the job — not just for the president, but for our intelligence professionals who through him will have a chance to rebuild their reputation.
Kenneth R. Timmerman, best-selling author, lectured on Iran at the Joint Counter-Intelligence Training Academy from 2010-2016. He was jointly nominated for the Nobel Peace prize with Ambassador John Bolton in 2006 for his work on Iran. His latest book is “ISIS Begins: a Novel of the Iraq War.”
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