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McConnell, Hayden To Get The Ax?

So says The Washington Post, reporting that the director of national intelligence and the director of the CIA ought to start preparing for their inevitable six-figure consulting jobs. There’s this bit of griping:

A government official who has closely followed the evolution in the intelligence leadership in recent years argued that it is important to keep at least a few “seasoned” professionals in place during wartime.

First, as I blogged about yesterday, CIA vet John Brennan’s place in the Obama transition team suggests that at least the CIA chief is going to be a career official, which (I think) would be only the third time in CIA history that a career guy would helm the agency. (Richard Helms and current — future? — SecDef Bob Gates are the other two.) But there’s a structural issue here.

Years ago, John Judis and I worked on a reported piece about why then-CIA chief George Tenet was so terrible. John, one of the best national-issues journalists in American history, mused to me that an important structural guard against politicizing the CIA would be to make the head of the intelligence community less beholden to the political system. He wanted the job to be more like that of the Federal Reserve chairmanship, nominally independent of who’s president.

There’s a lot to the idea. But it’s not a guarantee of depoliticization. For one thing, Federal Reserve chairpersons aren’t apolitical, they’re just independent. And that sows the seeds for unaccountability, which the intelligence community already has in spades. For another, being the head of an intelligence agency is, inevitably a political job: you’re the liaison between the world as it’s seen by the analysts and the world as policymakers desire it to be. This is all the more true for the overall intelligence chief, who also has to answer to Congress. That’s not to say that a director of national intelligence can’t be professional. But perhaps it’s time to jettison the rather unrealistic idea, repeatedly disproven by a half-century’s worth of history, that such a person will be apolitical, or should be.

Maybe the answer is to find a better mix of career people and appointees to supplement each other. Or maybe there’s no single solution.

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