President Trump is close to removing Dan Coats as director of national intelligence and has been holding informal meetings with potential candidates for DNI chief, according to multiple reports Friday.
Two people who are reportedly strong contenders for the job are are Gen. Joseph Dunford, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Fred Fleitz, former chief of staff to Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton.
A source close to the matter confirmed to this reporter that the president raised the possibility of the DNI job with Fleitz back in February and that Fleitz is considering the position. The move would signal that the president is serious about “downsizing” the the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), as Fleitz has advocated for its elimination in the past.
Fleitz is the President and CEO of the Center for Security Policy. He has 25 years experience serving in various U.S. national security positions, including the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of State and the House Intelligence Committee staff.
According to Axios, Coats got on the president’s bad side when he appeared to criticize his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin during an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
He further annoyed the president, reportedly, when he told a Senate panel in January that North Korea was unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons, contradicting Trump’s more optimistic predictions.
Last January, Fleitz accused Coats of undermining and “second-guessing” the president and called for Trump to “let him go” on Lou Dobbs’ Fox Business show.
#DrainTheSwamp – @FredFleitz: I would fire Dan Coats because of his assessment. This intelligence service has evolved into a monster that is second-guessing @POTUS all the time. @realDonaldTrump has to stop these unclassified worldwide threat briefings. #MAGA #TrumpTrain #Dobbs pic.twitter.com/NCzfAZZNlQ
— Lou Dobbs (@LouDobbs) January 30, 2019
- The director of national intelligence serves as an overseer of the U.S. intelligence community and a close adviser to the president and National Security Council, producing each day’s top-secret Presidential Daily Brief.
- A source with direct knowledge told me that Trump has privately said he thinks the Office of the Director of National Intelligence represents an unnecessary bureaucratic layer and that he would like to get rid of it. He has been told that eliminating the ODNI is not politically possible, but still would like to “downsize” the office, the source said.
Fleitz has advocated in writing for “sharply scaling back or eliminating” the ODNI “to make American intelligence great again.”
He laid out his recommendations in a December 2016 article at National Review, saying “the Trump administration must take aggressive steps to streamline American intelligence.”
As is true with many established government bureaucracies, political factors and fear of being wrong weigh heavily on the operations of U.S. intelligence agencies. While America still has the world’s best and most capable intelligence service, it has lost the “can-do” intrepid spirit of its predecessor, the heroic World War II-era Office of Strategic Services.
The ODNI has made this problem much worse — not just because it is an additional layer of stifling bureaucracy, but also because it has become a 17th intelligence agency, with its own intelligence analysts, thousands of employees, and a huge — and ever growing — budget.
Fleitz complained that the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) had “become an ODNI publication, weighed down with bureaucracy to make it ‘fair’ so that all 17 intelligence organizations can participate and use it to publish articles justifying their budget requests to Congress.” Once upon a time, he said, the PDB had been “a lean and effective daily intelligence publication for the president produced by the CIA.”
He also argued that the ODNI bureaucracy had “burdened intelligence agencies with unnecessary reports, regulations, and foreign travel by ODNI staff.”
Aside from being an attempt to improve the sharing of information between intelligence agencies in the aftermath of the 9/11 intelligence failures, the ODNI also was created because some believed it is impossible for the CIA director to both manage the CIA and oversee the rest of the U.S. Intelligence Community.
I have long believed that these reasons are false. The CIA director, as the director of central intelligence (DCI), worked well for decades as the head of all U.S. intelligence agencies. The failure to share intelligence between U.S. intelligence agencies prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks could have been addressed without creating the DNI position and its huge and plodding bureaucracy. Moreover, intelligence agencies have failed to share crucial information despite the creation of the ODNI.
In August of 2016, Fleitz correctly predicted that Trump Will Face a Huge Challenge with U.S. Intelligence If He Wins.
And in a particularly prescient post at Fox News in January of 2017, Fleitz asked: Was Friday’s declassified report claiming Russian hacking of the 2016 election rigged?
I am encouraged that President-elect Trump responded to this report by stating that will take aggressive action against cyber warfare against the United States in the early days of his administration.
At the same time, I believe President-elect Trump and his team are justified in questioning the January 6 report as politically motivated.
I am concerned that the exclusion of key intelligence players and the lack of dissenting views give the appearance that the conclusions of this report were pre-cooked.
I also suspect the entire purpose of this report and its timing was to provide President Obama with a supposedly objective intelligence report on Russian interference in the 2016 election that the president could release before he left office to undermine the legitimacy of Trump’s election.
According to Axios, Trump has told people that he likes Fleitz and has “heard great things.” Indeed, the choice of Fleitz as Trump’s Intel Chief would be a giant step toward “making American Intelligence great again.”