After exhaustive investigation, analysis, and debate, the 9/11 Commission unanimously recommended the establishment of a new position of Director of National Intelligence, reporting directly to the president. We intended a position with strong executive authority over the 16 dysfunctional intelligence agencies in the executive branch. We also intended an agile and elite staff of under 300 people reporting to the DNI, drawn from both inside and outside government.
The mission of the DNI was not to be the primary daily intelligence briefer of the president, nor to preside over yet another layer in the bloated intelligence bureaucracy. Instead, the position was intended to break up and reduce bureaucratic layers, tear down the 16 stovepipes that prevented sharing of intelligence between agencies, clear away the deadwood and dross, and infuse a newly streamlined intelligence community with a sense of mission rather than devotion to process, careerism, and turf.
There was hope President Obama would make a new start with the Director of National Intelligence position, and perhaps even read our 9/11 report. Those hopes were dashed.
Congress for once acted swiftly and passed legislation that was far from perfect, but sufficient to enable what we intended. President Bush, however, then took this legislation and turned it on its head.
• Edward N. Luttwak: Dennis Blair Was OutmaneuveredWhile he had resisted the establishment of our commission and was hostile to it throughout, we did not expect that he would go to such lengths to block our recommendations. His first pick for the job, former ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte, was a superb diplomat with no interest or experience in the intelligence snake pit. Bush then lumbered him with a vast new bureaucracy now encompassing over 2,000 souls. To further ensure paralysis, Bush refused to grant Negroponte the essential powers over intelligence budgets and personnel policy. I can almost imagine the former president muttering under his breath, “There, that will fix those commission bastards.”
With the coming of the Obama Administration and its view that everything Bush did should be reversed, there was hope the president would make a new start with the DNI, and perhaps even read our 9/11 report. Those hopes were dashed when he put his pal Leon Panetta at CIA and then reversed attempts by Negroponte’s successor, John McConnell—and Blair—to exercise some of the powers over the CIA, FBI, and Department of Defense that we had intended for the office.
While three successive DNIs have striven hard and accomplished some useful things, the intelligence community is now even more bloated and just as dysfunctional as it was before 9/11. The solution does not lie in yet another reorganization by a fourth powerless DNI. There will be no improvement until we have a president who gets it. Until then, the burden of keeping Americans safe from terrorism must rest outside the federal government, with individual centers of intelligence excellence like Ray Kelly’s NYPD Counterterrorism Office.
John Lehman was Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan Administration and a member of the 9/11 Commission.