Dear Mr. President-Elect: “Reforming” the CIA as a Priority


I continue to read reports, dating back to the time of the election, that you want to initiate significant reforms to the Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). With this, you may look to significantly change and even eliminate the position of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).

Intelligence reform is a topic I teach at the undergraduate and graduate level. This includes the reforms made after the Bush / Cheney / Wolfowitz / GOP abuses of the Intelligence Community in 2002, but also the abuses committed by American intelligence agencies in support of the Republican administration and President Nixon, ultimately leading to the Church Committee. I also discuss often the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA), the legislation that created the ODNI and the position of the DNI. I also teach extensively about roles Congress does play, and the roles Congress needs to play, with regards to intelligence reform.

As the head of the Administration, you’ll have the responsibility of leading the CIA. But here’s the thing – they are a government organization, and they exist.  There’s only so much about them they you are actually going to control.

They rest? That’s directed by federal regulation. And that, my good friend, is set by Congress. You can’t sell off parts of the organization. You can’t stop some parts that you just don’t like. You won’t be able to just say, No, we’re going to end this. Because so much of what is done, and what has to be done, is driven by code and law.

With that, so much of what drove the very need for a position like the Director of National Intelligence was that there was no single person and, with that, no single integrating effort within the intelligence community driving integration of the intelligence effort for the whole of the IC. Previously, the Director of Central Intelligence, who also ran the CIA, was suppose to do this, but in reality did not, and could not. The 9/11 Commission – in its soul-searching – concluded that a lot of things needed to change, to include creating something like a DNI and something like an ODNI. The IRPTA codified this, to guarantee that it was created.

But the problem was, our first few DNIs struggled within the higher echelons of leaders to find a role and a voice – butting heads with others, to figure out their place and the new defined identity for this thing, the DNI. It wasn’t until Jim Clapper came along that he was able to figure it out. We have had one – just one – that has been successfully working now for about six years, integrated fairly well with the Obama Administration, with the included ODNI and its subordinate National Counterterrorism Center and National Counterproliferational Center.

I am all for you working to make continued changes and improvements to the IC. No single agency should be stagnant, no one should accept that what has worked today and been successful today is going to be successful or the benchmark for success tomorrow. But as with the Church Committee and the 9/11 Commission, your efforts to advance reform within the Intelligence Community needs to be integrated and deliberate, thorough and thought out. Making mistakes here will severely impact you ability to pursue strategic goals and American national interests.

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