Following the resignation of James Clapper on Thursday, Donald Trump‘s national security team propose eliminating the Director of National Intelligence office (ODNI) altogether and undoing recent CIA reforms.
Disassembling the office would go against one of the 9/11 Commission’s key recommendations.
On Friday Trump announced that Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo and Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions were his picks to serve in the posts as CIA director and US Attorney General, respectively. Retired Army Lieutenant Gen. Michael Flynn would be appointed National Security Advisor.
The team has reportedly been meeting in recent days to integrate some departments into the other intelligence agencies it was formerly tasked with overseeing.
Trump’s choices caused some confusion within the Republican establishment, with Kori Schake, a former State Department official under George W. Bush, telling Politico, “I don’t know any of them…National security is hard to do well even with first-rate people. It’s almost impossible to do well with third-rate people.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) was established in 2005 in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a means to cover the deficiencies in the intelligence community that contributed to the tragedy. Chief among these deficiencies was the lack of information sharing among the intelligence community’s 16 federal agencies. Disassembling the office would go against one of the 9/11 Commission’s key recommendations.
An unnamed former senior security official told the Intercept that ODNI was never a true solution to major security issues to begin with. “It was always a naive idea that American intelligence can be ‘fixed.’ You’ll never get it all correct,” the source said. “You can never have 100 percent intelligence, never stop every terror plot or penetrate every terrorist cell. There will always be gaps.”
The former security official also said that the transition team is also considering undoing CIA Director John Brennan’s reorganization of the Agency. Brennan’s restructuring entailed bringing spies and analysts together in mission centers, in a move he felt would better prepare the agency to address increasingly sophisticated cyber, terrorist and conventional threats.
“Most human interactions take place in that digital domain. So the intelligence profession needs to flourish in that domain. It cannot avoid it.” Brennan said in early November.
The changes drew complaints within the agency, with some claiming that the new structure diluted the CIA’s human espionage capabilities, one of its most essential skills. Another major issue was the fact that while the office has budgetary control over the agencies, it does not have the authority to hire or fire personnel, making it difficult to impact operations.
Former intelligence officer and author David Priess told the Intercept that removing the office would be more difficult than the new administration realizes.
“It’s a law, not an executive order at the whim of the president; it was part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act; [they] can’t unilaterally decide it no longer exists, they would have to pass a new law unwrapping all the things in that law,” he said.