Does America need a Director of National Intelligence?
Sun June 6, 2010 10:59 pm

Reuters moved a story today quoting Secretary of Defense Bob Gates concerning the flap over Obama's choice for director of national intelligence (DNI), retired General James Clapper, now undersecretary of defense for intelligence:

Clapper's military background has rattled some of the lawmakers whose support he will need for Senate confirmation. That may increase the chances of his nomination being held up, a potential liability for Obama in an election year.

Some Democrats and Republicans on the congressional committees that oversee the intelligence community have objected to Clapper, complaining that he is too close to the Pentagon and is reluctant to share information.

Speaking to reporters on his plane, Gates countered that Clapper was "very independent-minded," and has a "strong, long record of not only adherence to congressional oversight but support of it."

* * * *

This story caught my attention because I wrote a profile of Gates, who was then president of Texas A&M, for the November 2006 issue. Within weeks, he would leave A&M to become Secretary of Defense. Gates told me that the White House had offered him the position as DNI in 2005 but he had turned it down. He discussed his reasons in an interview that was part of my story. Here is what I wrote:

IN EARLY SEPTEMBER GATES went to Baghdad with, among others, James Baker, to evaluate the situation in Iraq for President George W. Bush. That was the second time the White House had turned to Gates. In January 2005 Andy Card, then chief of staff for Bush, called Gates to ask if he would take the newly created post of director of national intelligence, or, as it was called, “Intelligence Czar.” Gates did not want to leave A&M, nor did he want to return to Washington. And he was well aware of the pitfalls of the job. “The DNI only has budget authority,” he told me as we drove back to Rudder Tower in the golf cart Gates uses to get around campus. “He decides how much money each agency gets. What good does that do? If you’re director of NSA [the National Security Agency] and the Secretary of Defense can fire you, who are you going to listen to? That was one reason not to take it. I couldn’t have hired or fired the head of a single agency.”

The question that comes to mind is, if the job is so bad, why have such a position? This is one of those situations that make you want to give up on government. We have a position for a Director of National Intelligence that is so weak that the DNI has little authority to do his job. Let's just get rid of the position. What's wrong with that?

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