National Intelligence Director Post Difficult to Fill
Six weeks after President Bush signed the intelligence bill calling for a new director of national intelligence, the White House is still looking for what the president told reporters last week is “the right person to handle this very sensitive position.” Although names of several possible candidates have surfaced, officials say they do not believe the White House is close to making an appointment. Within the intelligence community and on Capitol Hill, officials say they believe the delay stems at least partly from continuing uncertainty over what real power and authority the new director will have.
“It is confounding and disturbing not to have someone on the job,” Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said last week. She linked the delay to the “murkiness and ambiguities . . . directly related to compromises that had to be made in both houses” to get the intelligence reorganization bill passed. The vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), acknowledged that the legislation left uncertainties about the role of the director of national intelligence (DNI) but said that “it was better to be a little vague” in writing such a law. “The person chosen to be DNI should be one of the five most powerful people in government and by his or her actions will eliminate the vagueness.”
White House officials said last week that Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., who is leading the search for a director of national intelligence, did not have time to grant an interview on the matter. Newsweek has reported that former CIA director Robert M. Gates had been approached but wanted to remain president of Texas A&M University. Goss, who once was considered the leading candidate, has apparently decided to stay put at the CIA, according to congressional sources. Two former intelligence officials said that Silberman, a former ambassador to Yugoslavia and former deputy attorney general, and William Studeman, another member of the commission and former deputy CIA director, may be under consideration.
In addition to the turf wars inherent in the position, it’s likely to be an incredibly thankless task. Still, if we’re serious about consolidation as the way to solve the stovepiping problem–I remain unconvinced–then the president needs to get someone into the position. I still think the smart way to handle this is to appoint someone with high bipartisan appeal with obvious experience in the national security business. A Democrat along the lines of Joe Lieberman or Joe Biden would fill the bill if they could be persuaded to take the job, as would a cantankerous Republican like John McCain. Such an appointment would instantly de-politicize the position and yet bring in someone with the stature to actually make things happen.