Here’s the bottom line: I staunchly oppose the appointment and confirmation of Mr. John Ratcliffe — a man with insufficient national security experience — as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the leader responsible for coordinating the efforts of the intelligence community and personally shaping the President’s understanding and consumption of intelligence information.
As you may have gathered from my writing portfolio or bio, I come from a primarily intelligence background, with a stint in Special Operations. It’s been an eye-opening experience and one I’m grateful for, despite a few downsides (countless formal briefings, frustration at decision-makers, and the need to be very patient, to name a few).
As an intelligence professional, I take pride in the craft of intelligence and its value in informing decision-making and speaking “truth to power.” This is not always an easy task. It requires planning, gathering, analyzing, exploiting, and sharing often hard-won information that allows leaders to make informed decisions. That job becomes more difficult when you learn that leaders are in no way obligated to listen to or act upon the information you provide them, no matter how damning it may be.
Yet, there is a freedom in this ability to remain non-partisan, apolitical, and objective in one’s proceedings. To be “above the (political) fray,” as it were.
Naturally, there are always elements of cognitive or other biases that enter into our work. Extensive professional training seeks to identify these biases and mitigate them to the best extent possible. However, the Intelligence Community prides itself in providing the best, least-politicized information they can to decision makers, regardless of their political affiliation or opinions. It is what keeps the 17-member agency community professional, respected, non-partisan, and effective.
Former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Allen Dulles, once opined on a few rules of the intelligence game. He said the greatest vice in this game is that of carelessness, as mistakes “generally cannot be rectified.” The next greatest vices are vanity, whose offshoots “are multiple and malignant,” and finally, the man with a “swelled head [who] never learns… [for] there is always a great deal to be learned.”
When former Texas congressman John Ratcliffe was recently confirmed as the new Director of National Intelligence, I could not help but question the validity of the President’s decision to appoint him in the first place. Now, who am I, a lowly peon, to question the President’s authority and decision-making, especially given that he is my Commander-in-Chief?
I am a concerned citizen who does not appreciate the appointment and confirmation of the top intelligence official position to an inexperienced partisan.
John Ratcliffe’s confirmation as DNI is the equivalent of a kindergartner conducting open-heart surgery, or of Rosie O’Donnell being selected as the next Patriots head coach — both are unequivocally unqualified and inexperienced for their new role (at least Rosie has probably watched a few games on television).
I obviously use these analogies for effect. Simply, Mr. Ratcliffe lacks the necessary experience and qualifications for his role. I care less about who nominated him for the position than I do his qualifications for it. Granted, Mr. Ratcliffe is the fourth person to hold the DNI position in less than a year; however, qualifications should never be overlooked. The major issue at play is the politicization of the intelligence community, starting at the top.
For comparison, here are some “quick stats” from previous directors:
- John Negroponte, the first-ever DNI, was a career foreign service officer. He was a four-time ambassador, United Nations and U.S. Envoy to Iraq after the 2003 invasion, and former White House National Security Council staffer.
- John McConnell, who succeeded Mr. Negroponte, had been a naval intelligence officer for 30 years. He was a vice admiral and served as the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s head of intelligence during Operation Desert Storm. He had also been the Director of the National Security Agency.
- Dennis Blair, the third DNI, was a Naval Academy and Oxford graduate. He was a Rhodes Scholar, White House fellow, former National Security council staff, a former associate director of the CIA, and head of Pacific Command from where he retired as an admiral.
- James Clapper, the next confirmed DNI, was a career Air Force intelligence officer with almost 40 years of service including time directing the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. He had also served as the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence before his appointment and confirmation.
Let’s be perfectly clear: the issue here is not who appointed Mr. Ratcliffe, the issue is why he was appointed given his lack of experience and qualifications. Additional unintended consequences of such an appointment could also impact what such a partisan (i.e. staunch supporter of the incumbent president) is able to do in his role. The purpose of the intelligence community is to inform decision-makers, the ones who create policy.
When such an inexperienced and unqualified individual is placed in such a position, lack of experience in remaining apolitical, and thus speaking truth to power, is significantly impacted. That is the more insidious threat beneath any knee-jerk partisanship defenses.
Now more than ever it seems, the DNI will be responsible for speaking truth to power on a myriad of complex issues that require absolute diligence, professionalism, and well-informed counsel. The Intelligence Community exists for that purpose. The onus is now squarely on Mr. Ratcliffe to represent the community at a time where topics like Russian active measures, election interference, cybersecurity, pandemics, Venezuelan unrest, Iranian provocations, and ISIS must be presented in a non-political, unbiased, analytical, and well-informed manner.
Is Mr. Ratcliffe up to the task? I certainly hope so. Author Stephen Covey once wrote, “surround yourself with people who are even more talented and competent than you.” My hope is that Mr. Ratcliffe does exactly this, and use the expertise and knowledge of true intelligence professionals to accurately — and in a non-partisan manner — inform the President’s decision-making as best as possible. Many things depend on it.
Thanks for listening.