National Security

New intel chief inherits host of challenges

Former Navy Vice Adm. Joseph Maguire will take over as acting director of national intelligence (DNI) when Dan Coats steps down Thursday, thrusting him atop an intelligence community undergoing a broad shake-up in senior leadership.

Those who know Maguire say he’s up to the task of making sure things run smoothly, and won’t be the kind of loyalist that some critics fear President Trump seeks for top intelligence posts.

{mosads}“Joe does not in my view have a political bone in his body,” said Michael Leiter, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) who was Maguire’s boss. “Joe is a national security professional.” 

“Joe just doesn’t have any reason to do anything other than represent his organization. Joe doesn’t need this job, Joe never aspired to be DNI,” Leiter added.

Maguire, a former Navy SEAL with a long military career, will move from his post as head of NCTC to replace Coats, whose deputy, Sue Gordon, is also resigning on Thursday. 

In his new role, experts say, Maguire will need to balance managing various agencies’ assets while also serving as a top adviser to a president who has criticized the intelligence community.

Adding to that challenge is the fact that Trump has not chosen a permanent replacement for Coats after his initial pick — Texas GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe — withdrew from consideration after a barrage of media scrutiny earlier this month.

If Maguire’s temporary gig extends into several months, some say it could create headaches for whoever ultimately succeeds him. 

“If it’s a long interim, whoever the DNI is will need to reestablish the relationships and the influence that Coats had and that his predecessors had,” said Jim Lewis, an intelligence expert and senior vice president at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.{mosads} 

Lewis said acting heads of agencies typically have “less influence, because people wonder how long you are going to be there.” 

“The acting’s mandate is pretty much to keep things stable until the permanent guy arrives,” he said. 

Trump has acknowledged that Maguire is a potential candidate for the permanent role, but it’s unclear precisely when the president will announce his nominee. Several other names have been floated, including Pete Hoekstra, the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands.

“Adm. Maguire is a very talented man. He’s a great leader,” Trump told reporters Friday. “He is a man who is respected by everybody, and he’s going to be there for a period of time. Who knows? Maybe he gets the job. But he’ll be there for a period of time — maybe a longer period of time than we think.”

Trump said he would be making a decision in the “not-too-distant future.”

It’s likely to be several weeks at minimum before a permanent replacement for Coats would be confirmed, even if Trump swiftly names a nominee. The Senate doesn’t return until Sept. 9, and the Senate Intelligence Committee would need to hold a confirmation hearing followed by a vote before the full Senate can vote on the nomination.

Maguire’s appointment, while temporary, seems to have had a calming effect, even as Trump weathered criticism over the intelligence shake-up.

Trump was said to have considered forcing out Gordon, a career intelligence officer who had strong relationships with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, so that he could choose someone else to serve as acting DNI. By law, the deputy director is required to take over as acting director in the event of a vacancy, but Trump is allowed to choose from a broader pool of applicants if there is not a permanent deputy.

Gordon said last week she would resign, and Trump announced that Maguire would be named acting DNI on Aug. 15. 

Maguire was confirmed as director of the NCTC by a voice vote in the Senate in December. Before that, he headed a nonprofit that provides scholarships to the children of special operations personnel killed in the line of duty. Earlier in his career he served as a vice president with defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.

Maguire does not have the intelligence experience of Gordon, a 27-year veteran of the CIA, nor does he have the Capitol Hill connections of Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana.

Still, Maguire is responsible for leading the entity within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence focused on intel related to foreign and domestic counterterrorism efforts. He also had a 36-year career in the Navy — experience that experts say will help him in his new role.

“He’s going to have to broaden the aperture,” said Lewis, who has worked in various national security posts in the government. “It’s new territory, and a lot depends on how quickly he can stabilize things. I think he’ll be able to do that. The Navy part of his career is going to be really helpful.”

The DNI manages the intelligence community as a whole — including entities that gather foreign, military and domestic intelligence — and serves as the principal adviser to the White House on intelligence and national security matters.

“The NCTC is a microcosm of the DNI and that is good,” said Leiter. “There is no doubt that Joe does not come out of a career in intelligence and there are a lot of subject areas he’s going to have to learn about, but that’s true of almost any other DNI.”

Leiter described his former colleague as a people person who excels at putting together and empowering a team.

It’s unclear whether those people skills could help Maguire if he clashes with Trump on intelligence matters, something that cast a shadow over Coats’s tenure.

Trump lashed out at his top intelligence officials after Coats and others publicly testified about an intelligence assessment that undercut the president’s pronouncements on Iran and North Korea. Coats also notably clashed with the president on the issue of Russia’s election interference.

He offered his resignation late last month, after months of speculation around his likely ouster.

Maguire has indicated he’s the kind of official who will present colleagues and superiors with the unvarnished truth when it comes to intelligence reports.

During his Senate confirmation hearing in July 2018, Maguire was pressed by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) to commit to reporting intelligence as it appears and not bowing to pressure from Trump to alter it in any way.

“My job as the director, if confirmed, is to make sure that I provide truthful and accurate information, and if not, then the stakes could be, we make a decision that is incorrect and it could cause harm to the nation and to our interests,” Maguire replied.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Wednesday in a statement to The Hill that Maguire’s most important job “will be to maintain the independence of the Intelligence Community regardless of the President’s public and private comments.”

He will need to “broaden his focus beyond counterterrorism to the other missions and elements of” the intelligence community, Schiff said, adding that Maguire “has a fine example” to follow in Coats and Gordon “in their commitments to providing independent analysis to policymakers and always speaking truth to power.”

In a statement last week, Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, described Maguire as a “capable public servant.”

Like Schiff, he said it was crucial that Maguire “speak truth to power.”

Tags Adam Schiff Angus King Dan Coats DNI Donald Trump Intel chief Intelligence John Ratcliffe Mark Warner

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