The next intelligence director is a critical choice for Trump — and the nation

The next intelligence director is a critical choice for Trump — and the nation
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The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Act of 2004, based on findings from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, established an Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to oversee the 16 agencies that comprise America’s Intelligence Community, or IC. The director (or the DNI, as the position is widely known) assumes responsibility for the nation’s National Intelligence Program on all intelligence issues related to national security, while also serving as the principal adviser to the president, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council on intelligence matters dealing with national security.  

In April 2005, the first director of National Intelligence, a cabinet-level position, was Ambassador John Negroponte, a former deputy national security adviser in the Reagan administration and an experienced diplomat who served as ambassador to many countries, including Mexico, the Philippines and Iraq, and as U.S. representative to the United Nations.

Ambassador Negroponte hit the ground running, working smartly with the 16 agencies to ensure that the IC was providing timely, insightful intelligence assessments on all issues affecting our nation’s security. As a cabinet-level officer, he or his representative attended all relevant National Security Council meetings, to provide intelligence scene-setters and assessments on the national security issues being discussed. The DNI also ensured that the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) provided the president with the most timely, relevant intelligence available. The four directors of National Intelligence who followed Ambassador Negroponte continued with this critically-important work.

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Now, with current DNI Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray Coats281 lobbyists have worked in Trump administration: report Former intelligence chief Coats rejoins law firm Remembering leaders who put country above party MORE and Principal Deputy DNI Sue Gordon scheduled to retire today, the current director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Vice Admiral Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireSecond intel official considering filing complaint over Trump: report Overnight Defense: State approves M weapons sale to Ukraine | Pompeo rejects Dem demands for officials' testimony | Dems worry about whistleblower's safety | US, North Korea to hold talks Democrats warn GOP, Trump putting whistleblower safety at risk MORE, becomes acting DNI.

Having spent six years with the ODNI, starting as a plank-holder with DNI Negroponte as an associate DNI responsible for North Korea, I can speak with some ground truth as to what we expect of the DNI and the organization that was created to support the director.

To direct and oversee the IC agencies is no small job. These are established agencies with many years of history, staffed by an officer corps of experienced intelligence professionals. That means the DNI and his or her staff need to understand and appreciate the work of these agencies and the role they have in the intelligence collection and analysis process. It’s not only understanding their work but also evaluating how well they collaborate and integrate with other agencies, to ensure there’s no overlap of responsibilities and address any intelligence gaps in a timely, cost-effective manner. 

Understanding the mission of each agency and evaluating the efficacy of their efforts and the resources they allocate to address potential intelligence gaps is a key responsibility of the DNI. So is ensuring that the IC is responsive to the needs of its “customers” — the policy-making community, the warfighters, Congress and law enforcement. All have issues that they expect the IC to address in a timely manner.

Of course, the principal “customer” is the president and his cabinet. Being responsive to the issues important to the president is the IC’s most important job. The DNI must ensure that the president, the secretary of State, secretary of Defense and others in the cabinet receive current, insightful intelligence assessments, regardless of how it’s received. To do this, the DNI must make certain that the IC receives the resources — people and money — necessary to carry out its mission, and that those resources are being used smartly.

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Yet, the DNI also must be a strong advocate for the IC and its mission. He or she must ensure that the president and Congress — and, sometimes, others — understand the work of the IC and the obstacles the IC confronts on a daily basis, whether it’s collection abroad or analytic assessments that are controversial.

The work of the DNI and the agencies he or she oversees is, for obvious reasons, not always transparent to the public. The men and women who work in the shadows, many in harm’s way overseas, are the responsibility of the DNI. It is, therefore, the DNI’s responsibility to make sure their work is appreciated and that all understand the role of intelligence is to tell truth to power, regardless of how it is received.  

We have been fortunate to have had excellent directors of National Intelligence, starting with Ambassador Negroponte. And, given the national security issues confronting our nation today, the selection of the next DNI is of critical importance to all Americans — a selection on which the nation’s security depends.

Ambassador Joseph R. DeTrani was the former associate director of National Intelligence and mission manager for North Korea, and the State Department’s special envoy for negotiations with North Korea from 2003 to 2006. He directed the National Counterproliferation Center in 2010 and was associate director of National Intelligence. The views are the author’s and not any agency or department.