Before getting into what I believe the next DNI should focus on, I suppose its worth considering briefly why President Elect Obama did not name his Director of National Intelligence (DNI) or CIA Director along with the rest of his National Security team on 30 November. According to informed reporting, retired Admiral Denny Blair was slated to be named DNI and John Brennan-- current CEO of TAC, Clinton PDB Briefer, first NCTC Director, and senior Intelligence advisor to the Obama campaign – Director of CIA. According to unconfirmed second hand insider reports, Denny Blair's nomination is being reconsidered because the Obama Transition Team is concerned about establishing the DNI as a military position. Just a few days before the President Elect introduced his national security team, John Brennan publicly announced he was withdrawing his name from consideration for any senior IC post so as not to be a "distraction" to the new administration because of concerns raised by a coalition of 200 psychiatrists about his tacit acceptance of "enhance interrogation techniques" while at CIA. In my view these are inconsequential reasons for denying our next President and the IC the service of two outstanding individuals who would be ready to lead the IC from the moment of confirmation.
So while we wait for the next DNI to be named, let's explore in a cursory way what President Obama's Senior Intelligence Officer (SIO) should have on his agenda regardless of who is designated. Based on the advice of National Security Advisor Jim Jones, I suspect President Obama will charge his DNI to make sure the President has the intelligence needed to insure the security of the United States AND that the DNI keep the IC under control so this administration is not embarrassed by any abridgements of civil liberties or human rights. If the "book" on Barak Obama is close to right, insuring that IC does not embarrass the United States in general or this administration in particular will be a serious and important charge to the next DNI after the recent controversy associated with warrantless wiretaps and allegations of torture… if the new DNI wants to keep the job.
To be a little more specific, here are a number of questions – and my answers – I would like to imagine President Obama asking his DNI in order to learn more about where the DNI stands as well as about the IC and what it can and can’t do for the President.
Ø DNI what is the biggest wildcard in the national security threat deck? The DNI would be wise to give the same one word answer former DCI and continuing Secretary of Defense Bob Gates gave in a recent interview: Pakistan.
Ø What keeps you awake at night? The DNI should respond: the nation's vulnerability to cyber capabilities we know adversaries can muster against us right now.
Ø DNI what national security issue is the IC least capable of dealing with? The DNI should know the answer is the increasing economic weakness of the
Ø What is the IC's most serious blind spot? The DNI should report that it is the convergence zone of foreign and domestic intelligence given our political bias not to engage in domestic intelligence.
Ø DNI what kind of intelligence is most difficult to understand? HUMINT because it takes time to develop.
Ø What is our best source of Intelligence DNI? Easy, it's all source analysis!
Ø What is the biggest misconception about intelligence across the government? That intelligence is a free good!
Ø What is the IC's biggest misconception about itself? That its sources and methods are superior to those of journalist, academic researchers, and subject matter experts.
Ø Is the IC properly organized for today's threat matrix DNI? No, the IC would be more effective if was organized by function (i.e collection, exploitation, analysis, and dissemination) instead of by "INT" as it has been since 1947.
Ø If I asked you for a benchmark organization to measure the IC against what would you tell me? Disney Corporation, because like the IC it is a global enterprise that is both a content generator and provider operating in a variety of mediums all with multiple audiences.
Ø Where is the greatest waste in the IC? The acquisition process and unintended redundant capabilities come immediately to mind, but if I can only name one it would be the consistent failure of the IC to match analytic capabilities with its collections systems.
Ø If the IC could get a significant budgetary plus up in FY 10 how would you spend it? Analytic training and education. Training so analysts could learn how to better use the IT analytic tools the IC has already invested in and education to increase the intellectual capacity of analysts
Ø What if I have to significantly cut the IC budget in FY-10? Military service specific intelligence is so expensive that most other nations have moved to consolidating their military intelligence into one organization, but I would rather sacrifice an expensive space borne collection system than do this (remember what I said about collecting more than we can analyze).
Ø What one thing can I do tomorrow as President that will make the IC more effective? Direct that if security authorities cannot show in 60 days reasonable cause for not clearing a military or government employee for a position requiring an SCI clearance that the individual will be granted an interim TS/SCI clearance
Ø What should be done long term to improve the IC? If your administration decides to retain the DNI and ODNI staff, the position of DNI should be established in law for a set length time as is the case for the Director of the Federal Reserve or Director of the FBI to de-politicalize the DNI position and the advice given to the President, other members of the executive branch, and the Congress.
Ø OK, what do you want to tell me that I haven't asked you about? Well Mr. President I hope you will keep in mind that unlike clairvoyance, intelligence to be useful has to be based on empirical data and information. My job is to put the intelligence the IC generates into a context so it is useful to you
Now you have a sense of how I would qualify any candidate to be the DNI or hold other senior IC positions, but I am more interested in what you think the right questions and answers should be to get the best DNI.