More Shakeups At The Top Of The Intelligence Community

Just over a week after Dan Coats announced he was stepping own as Director of National Intelligence, there are more shakeups at the top of the U.S. intelligence community.

Just one week after Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats announced that he was stepping down after just over two years on the job, there’s been more shakeups at the top of America’s intelligence community:

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Thursday abruptly decided to install Joseph Maguire, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, as the acting director of national intelligence after Dan Coats steps down from the post next week.

Mr. Trump announced his decision to elevate Mr. Maguire, a retired vice admiral who once led the Navy’s Special Warfare Command, on Twitter shortly after confirming that Sue Gordon, the nation’s No. 2 intelligence official — who by law had been in line to temporarily take over as director — would instead depart with Mr. Coats on Aug. 15.

Ms. Gordon, who served more than 30 years in intelligence posts at the C.I.A. and other agencies, informed Mr. Trump of her decision to retire in a letter on Thursday after it became clear that he would not permit her to rise to the position of acting director.

“As you ask a new leadership team to take the helm, I will resign my position,” she wrote, adding: “I am confident in what the intelligence community has accomplished, and what it is poised to do going forward. I have seen it in action first-hand for more than 30 years. Know that our people are our strength, and they will never fail you or the nation. You are in good hands.”

The sudden shuffle in the highest ranks of the intelligence community added to the turmoil since Mr. Trump announced on Twitter on July 28 that Mr. Coats would leave and that Representative John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican who is an outspoken supporter of the president, would be his nominee for the next director.

(…)

The signs of turmoil prompted lawmakers of both parties, including those leading the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senators Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, and Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, to issue strong expressions of support.

Mr. Burr called her departure “a significant loss” for the intelligence community.

“In more than three decades of public service, Sue earned the respect and admiration of her colleagues with her patriotism and vision,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “She has been a stalwart partner to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and I will miss her candor and deep knowledge of the issues. I look forward to seeing what new challenges she will tackle next.”

Representative Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat who leads the House Intelligence Committee, portrayed the ousters as a “devastating loss” that threatened the intelligence community’s ability to provide independent analysis and judgment to policymakers.

“Gordon brought decades of experience and encyclopedic knowledge of the agencies to bear, and her absence will leave a great void,” he said. “These losses of leadership, coupled with a president determined to weed out anyone who may dare disagree, represent one of the most challenging moments for the intelligence community.”

In a sign of how Mr. Trump’s circle viewed Ms. Gordon, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. expressed opposition to her on Twitter last week, referring to John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director during the Obama administration and a frequent Trump critic. The younger Mr. Trump spoke of “rumors about her being besties with Brennan and the rest of the clown cadre.”

More from The Washington Post:

President Trump said in a tweet Thursday that he will name Joseph Maguire, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, as the acting director of national intelligence, following his aborted effort to install a political loyalist. 

Maguire is a retired Navy admiral not steeped in the inner workings of the intelligence community, but his appointment was seen as steadying in the middle of a tumultuous shake-up in the top ranks of the country’s spy agencies.   

As Trump announced ­Maguire’s appointment, he also said that Sue Gordon, the deputy director of national intelligence, would resign and not serve in the acting role when director Daniel Coats also departs next week.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers had said they wanted Gordon, a career intelligence official, to fill in for Coats. But Trump was reluctant to keep someone with whom he had never formed a close bond. The president and his aides also regarded her as a career official and consequently suspicious, according to officials with knowledge of the president’s views. 

In a handwritten letter to Trump reviewed by The Washington Post, Gordon wrote that she had offered her resignation “as an act of respect & patriotism, not preference. You should have your team.” 

A U.S. official said that Gordon was “heartbroken” and agonized over her decision to step down, but that she recognized she served at the president’s pleasure. 

“No one ever doubted her commitment to the officers who make up the intelligence community,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. 

Maguire, 67, will assume the role Aug. 15, when Gordon leaves her position.

“Sue Gordon is a great professional with a long and distinguished career. I have gotten to know Sue over the past 2 years and have developed great respect for her,” Trump said in a tweet. 

Trump had intended to nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) as the director of national intelligence. But Ratcliffe’s potential nomination collapsed amid bipartisan criticism about his lack of national security expertise and allegations that he padded his résumé as a former federal prosecutor. 

In her letter of resignation, Gordon emphasized her years of experience and praised intelligence agency employees. 

“I am confident in what the Intelligence Community has accomplished, and what it is poised to do going forward,” Gordon wrote. “I have seen it in action first-hand. Know that our people are our strength, and they will never fail you or the Nation. You are in good hands.” 

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised Gordon, but didn’t signal that he would oppose Maguire as the acting director. 

“Sue Gordon’s retirement is a significant loss for our Intelligence Community,” the senator said in a statement. “In more than three decades of public service, Sue earned the respect and admiration of her colleagues with her patriotism and vision. She has been a stalwart partner to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and I will miss her candor and deep knowledge of the issues.”

Current and former intelligence officials were relieved by Maguire’s appointment, although it wasn’t clear whether Trump would formally nominate him as the permanent intelligence director. Maguire was already confirmed by the Senate for his current position and by law is allowed to assume the duties as acting director. 

“He’s not a career intelligence officer, but he does understand the role that the men and women of the intelligence community play and will represent them well,” said one former senior intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.

Maguire, who was a Seal Team 6 commander, has extensive experience in counterterrorism operations and national security, said Mike McConnell, a former director of national intelligence who worked with Maguire during the George W. Bush administration.

“He listens, he’s deliberate and he makes good decisions. He’s the kind of guy that all the troops want to have as boss and would follow him anywhere,” McConnell said. 

“Joe is a terrific leader who cares deeply about the men and women of the intelligence community,” said Nick Rasmussen, who held Maguire’s job at the counterterrorism center under Bush and President Barack Obama. “He’s someone who has always accepted the call to serve his country in whatever way is required. This is no different.”

As noted above, this all began just over a week ago with the resignation of Dan Coats as DNI after a tenure during which it had been reported several times that he had butted heads with the President. This was especially true with regard to issues such as Russian interference in the 2016 election and its intentions to do s again in the future. At the time of Coats’ resignation, the issue of succession quickly came to the forefront since it was clear that Trump did not want to elevate Gordon, who serves as Coats’ principle Deputy DNI, to even the position of Acting Director while awaiting the confirmation of a successor. Additionally, in lieu of naming Gordon as Coats’ successor, a position she would have been exceedingly qualified for, Trump initially named Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe as his nominee. Within days, though, it became apparent that Ratcliffe was woefully unqualified for the position. That, combined with additional reports that Ratcliffe had embellished or outright lied about his experience as a prosecutor in handling national security cases led Radcliffe to withdraw his name from consideration after it became apparent that even Republicans, such as Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, were skeptical of the viability of the nomination.

Joseph McGuire, who will serve as Acting DNI for now, seems well-qualified for the position. After graduating from Manhattan College in 1974, McGuire entered the United States Navy, where he served for 36 years including many years as a Navy SEAL and a ranking officer in the SEAL program including time as Commanding Officer of SEAL Team Two and, later, the Commanding Officer of the Naval Special Warfare Center. He also served as the Commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command. Last year he was named to head the National Counterterrorism Center, a position he has held until being named the Acting DNI, where he will take over for Director Coats on August 15th when his retirement becomes official,

There’s still no word on who President Trump might name to replace Coats on a permanent basis and, of course, he will now also be required to name a successor for the position of Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence with the announcement of Gordon’s retirement. McGuire, of course, would seem to be a good nominee for the position but it’s unclear if he will be the kind of “yes” man that Trump clearly prefers in a position such as this. Of course, it was also obvious that Gordon herself would have made an excellent replacement for Coats. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, though, she was clearly disfavored by Trump to the point where he refused to allow her to conduct the President’s Daily Brief in Coats’ place when he was unavailable.

One can hope that the President will pick someone who is qualified for the position who will have a sufficient degree of independence to be able to speak frankly to the President. History, though, indicates that this is unlikely. This is best exemplified by Coats’ tenure, which was rocky, to say the least. Coats was, for example, one of the strongest voices defending the conclusion of every intelligence agency that Russia did in fact interfere in the 2016 election, that it was continuing its campaigns of cyberwarfare and disruption via disinformation against the United States and other western democracies. He also publicly and privately raised doubts about the Administration’s North Korea by stating that, in the assessment of the intelligence community, it was highly unlikely that the DPRK would ever completely give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile research programs. All this occurred while the President continued to call the Russia investigation “fake news,” said he believed Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election, and claimed that he had a special relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who he believed would indeed give up his nuclear weapons. It was also during this time that Trump engaged in frequent attacks on the intelligence community and the so-called “Deep State” on his Twitter account and elsewhere.

In fact, one could say that Trump has done more damage to the intelligence community than the KGB ever dreamed it could accomplish. There have been many reports over the past several years that morale in the various intelligence agencies is down significantly and that it is the President’s attacks on their wok their integrity, encouraged by Fox News and other commentators, that is fueling those feelings. If Trump tries to politicize the community, as he clearly did with the aborted Ratcliffe appointment, that decline will inevitably continue. What impact that could have on national security I’ll leave for others to comment on.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Intelligence, National Security, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    What impact that could have on national security I’ll leave for others to comment on.

    This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.

    ReplyReply
  2. Jen says:

    In fact, one could say that Trump has done more damage to the intelligence community than the KGB ever dreamed it could accomplish.

    Unequivocally.

    We are entering a very dangerous period, I think. With intelligence agencies weakened through a dramatic loss of institutional knowledge and many if not most career intelligence workers demoralized, something is bound to slip through the cracks.

    This. Is. Dangerous.

    ReplyReply
  3. michael reynolds says:

    We no longer have an intelligence community.

    ReplyReply
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  4. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: We still have an intelligence community. Trump just doesn’t use it for anything.

    ReplyReply
  5. Jay L Gischer says:

    I think, I hope, that this is about “the man at the top”, because that’s all the further Trump is able to see or think about. He needs that person to get the rest of the organization to stfu and not bother him with things that are “disrespectful”. But the truth is disrespectful:

    But 2 x 2 = 4 is nevertheless an intolerable thing. Twice two is four is, in my opinion, nothing but impudence. ‘Two and two make four’ is like a cocky young devil standing across your path with arms akimbo and a defiant air. I agree that two and two make four is an excellent thing; but to give everything its due, two and two make five is also a very fine thing.

    Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes From Underground

    ReplyReply
  6. michael reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    They’re still drawing paychecks, but they are of no value, in fact are likely to be of negative value. The new leadership of the intel community is being put in place to lie for Trump. That means they cannot do their jobs, which means that in effect they have zero credibility. In terms of usefulness it’d be better if they just stayed home and called in sick for the next year or so.

    ReplyReply
  7. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Obvious repetitive pattern:

    1) Capable people do the work that their position requires of them.

    2) The wizard of Trump, who knows better than the generals and so called deep-state “experts”, is threatened by their competence.

    3) How DARE you disagree with the great and powerful wizard of Trump !!! You’re Fired !!!

    4) Capable person thinks: “What a petulant two-year-old ass… I don’t need this shit”, and tenders their resignation.

    5) The wizard of Trump releases his standard: “(Fill-in-the-blank) is a great professional with a long and distinguished career. I have gotten to know (Fill-in-the-blank) over the past 2 years and have developed great respect for (him/her/them).”

    Of course that is realizing he f-ed up, and is in deal-making mode: I’ll say nice things about you, so say only nice things about me. See Nice! OK? Nice!

    6) Capable person, asked about their time in the White House, tries to be polite but still expresses their reasonable (albeit reserved) concerns.

    7) The wizard of Trump and his flying monkeys go on the attack! Go Steven Miller! Go Kellyanne Conway! Fly! Fly!

    Attack with the twitter! Release: “(Fill-in-the blank), who was terminated from a position that (he/she/they) was/were totally incapable of handling, now seems to do nothing but television as the all time expert on ‘President Trump.’ (He/she/they) know very little about me…other than the fact that this Administration has probably done more than any other Administration in its first 2 1/2 years of existence.”

    Rinse. Repeat. Until you won’t find a recent PoliSci graduate that would even consider going anywhere close to the White House.

    Everything Trump touches dies.

    ReplyReply
  8. Liberal Capitalist says:

    re: 2+2=5

    Quote, Orwell’s 1984:

    “In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?”

    (emphasis mine)

    However… the thing that influence Orwell was this: In ‘Looking Back on the Spanish War’ Orwell wrote a totalitarian regime would be:

    “…a nightmare world in which the Leader or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such event, ‘It never happened’ – well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five – well, two and two are five”.

    Sound familiar?

    ReplyReply

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