Following the two worst intelligence failures in our United States history, Congress on a bipartisan basis passed a law that reformed the intelligence community and established the director of national intelligence. I was a principal coauthor, determined to solve systemic problems. Before the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, American intelligence operated on a business model dating back almost 60 years. We were focusing on traditional enemies, sharing information badly, and no one was in charge. A leader, equivalent to the Defense Department chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was desperately needed to enhance security.
Being the director of national intelligence is a complex job that needs a strong constitution, especially when policymakers do not like the forecast presented to them. It involves wrangling 16 agencies and ensuring that intelligence is thoroughly vetted and apolitical. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act required the use of alternative analysis, also known as red teaming, to poke holes in our predictions and to anticipate unexpected future threats. It also made clear that “national intelligence should be timely, objective, independent of political considerations, and based upon all sources available to the intelligence community.” Drawing this clear line was crucial to prevent another bad national intelligence estimate like the one used as justification to invade Iraq back in 2003.
John Negroponte was the first director of national intelligence appointed in 2005. He was a foreign service officer who had been ambassador to four countries and the United Nations, as well as deputy national security adviser to President Reagan. Mike McConnell took over two years later after serving in the Navy for decades and as head of the National Security Agency. Dennis Blair, the third director of national intelligence, was a retired Navy admiral and former commander of the United States Pacific Command. James Clapper, the fourth director of national intelligence, served in the Air Force for decades, had previously been the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and had also served as the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens Former national security officials warn antitrust bills could help China in tech race Cyber preparedness could save America's 'unsinkable aircraft carrier' MORE was the first politician to be director of national intelligence. He served two stints as a Republican senator from Indiana and served on the Senate Intelligence Committee for 16 years. He was also ambassador to Germany from 2001 to 2005 as Europe was ramping up its own efforts for counterterrorism. Coats gets high marks. On his watch, the security clearance backlog was cut in half, he devised a strategic plan to establish a new center to promote the use of technology in gathering intelligence, and he prioritized our cyberthreat defense and awareness.
John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeBiden, Trump battle over who's to blame for Afghanistan Sunday shows preview: US grapples with rising COVID-19 cases Trump-era intelligence chief wants Beijing Olympics moved due COVID-19 'cover-up' MORE, the nominee of President Trump to replace Coats, is also a politician who served as a United States attorney in Texas before he joined Congress in 2014. Some think he does not have the right qualifications, having served on the House Intelligence Committee for less than a year and with little management experience. Others believe he is “a bright guy and a quick study.” The Senate will surely probe his qualifications and his record as a lawmaker during his confirmation hearings. If then confirmed, Ratcliffe would be well advised to continue the future oriented reforms that Coats has led as director and leave the daily operations in the able hands of principal deputy director of national intelligence Susan Gordon.
There is no shortage of threats faced by this country. The next director of national intelligence will need to address a number of high consequence nuclear proliferation files from North Korea to Iran that risk miscalculation. Then there are the digital threats ranging from election security to probes into our electric grid. The director of national intelligence must also plan for the future of human intelligence, known as “humint” in spook speak, as digital exhaust is hard to conceal for members of the clandestine service.
Much progress has been made, and we have been spared another major attack on American soil. That is no accident. The next director of national intelligence must carry the torch further, while providing dispassionate and nonpartisan leadership. Supporting the hard work of so many who serve in undisclosed locations around the world is crucial to keep morale in the intelligence community high. The only way to do that is to abide daily by the great words carved into the wall of the Central Intelligence Agency, “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
Jane Harman is the president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She served in Congress as a Democratic representative from California and was ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.