National Security

Trump Eyes Possible Changes in the Intelligence Community

By Drew Berquist:

As people from both sides of the aisle continue to exchange blows over the alleged Russian email hacks, President elect Donald Trump’s transition team has eluded to forthcoming changes to the U.S. Intelligence Community.

According to some, among the biggest changes are expected to occur at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which opened shop in 2005 in the years following 9/11 and our subsequent engagement in the Global War on Terror.

The intent of the DNI at the time was to ensure that information sharing improved within the community. However, the results have been mixed at best, with many in the IC questioning the reasoning behind the organization. Most from inside the community would argue it has only added a layer of unnecessary bureaucracy, thus slowing decision making and subsequently operations. It has been further stated that Trump believes the DNI has become overly politicized, a sentiment I cannot say that I disagree with.

However, the changes are not likely to stop with the DNI.  The CIA, which prior to the formation of the DNI, was seen as the lead intelligence apparatus for the President is likely to receive a facelift as well.  Should anything occur, it will be the second major change at the agency in several years.  Under current Director John Brennan, the CIA underwent a very public reorganization, which abandoned the long-standing division of labor at the agency and now, in some cases, has analysts leading operational components, despite their lack in training and experience in the field.  The move has greatly confused and lowered the morale of its operational staff and further cemented the glaring problem of attrition at the agency.  While one could joke that attrition is good given the organization’s severely bloated staff, which Trump plans to reduce, the reality is our national security infrastructure demands well trained, experienced and content officers, not individuals looking for every opportunity to leave the agency, or community all together.  It has to be more than “just a job.”

While it is unclear what another CIA reorg would look like under Trump with Congressman Mike Pompeo leading the charge, it is clear that some changes are needed. Trump’s desire to reduce the workforce at CIA headquarters and expand operations in the field can make sense to a certain point.  However, inundating the field with more useless bodies, performing work that could be done at headquarters, also can have a detrimental effect on personnel and the mission.  I have seen first-hand multiple locations that have expanded too broadly and, while the sentiment behind the move was not purposefully done to disrupt operations, the result was emphatically negative for the mission.  As the world becomes increasingly dangerous with groups such as ISIS, tensions reaching new heights with Russia, and lone wolf attacks on the rise in the homeland, we need our intelligence officers on top of their game.  A less politicized agency with strong leadership will lead to a new sense of purpose in the officer cadre, which will in turn greatly improve morale and subsequently the results.

Bottom line:  The DNI has served as more of a detriment than a force multiplier.  Either develop a plan to drastically fix the failed agency or remove it.  Regardless, enable the CIA to be what it once was by trimming the fat and providing the organization the leeway necessary to perform the mission. Doing so will create an environment that is conducive to officer retention and promotion, and will eventually improve results.  We can support that plan.  But do not, for the love of God, send too many people to the field. Tipping the scales too strongly to one side or the other always has consequences.

Drew Berquist is the founder and a Senior Contributor for OpsLens.  Drew served as a counterterrorism officer for the United States Intelligence Community, where he performed more than forty deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan to conduct intelligence operations against the Taliban, al-Qai’da and more recently ISIS. A vast majority of said deployments were on behalf of the CIA.  Drew has commented on national security matters on Fox and Friends, Lou Dobbs, Dennis Miller and a number of other shows throughout the country. Follow Drew and his staff of contributors on Twitter at @OpsLens.

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