The Real Intelligence Chief Is John Brennan
Good David Ignatius column on What James Clapper’s Nomination Means:
The DNI flap has been fascinating in what it shows about Obama’s approach to intelligence. He wants facts, not commentary; he mistrusts aides such as Blair who let their personal opinions show, and he correspondingly values low-key colleagues such as Gates; he wants to oversee intelligence not from a separate fiefdom but from inside the White House, where former CIA official John Brennan serves as deputy national security adviser.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), read this column. Ignatius’s insightful observation indicates that your problem isn’t whether Clapper is an obstacle to a strong director of national intelligence. It’s whether John Brennan and President Obama are those obstacles. Institutional powers matter. They matter a lot. But unless the structure of the intelligence community changes radically, the strongest you can make the job is akin to a powerful congressional committee chair, not a cabinet secretary, to use the formulation of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a former CIA director. More radical changes would require a presidential commitment, and clearly Obama would prefer intelligence to be ultimately answerable to John Brennan at the White House. Accordingly, that’s going to be the official to whom the leadership of the intelligence agencies look to for their cues, whether or not Clapper gets confirmed and no matter what Clapper tells Feinstein when they parley in the coming days.