The Cable

Bond: John Brennan is the real DNI

It’s not top-secret information that John Brennan plays a huge role in intelligence policy in the Obama administration. But according to the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, he’s now the de-facto Director of National Intelligence, and that’s a problem. In his opening statement at Tuesday’s confirmation for Lt. Gen. James Clapper to become ...

It’s not top-secret information that John Brennan plays a huge role in intelligence policy in the Obama administration. But according to the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, he’s now the de-facto Director of National Intelligence, and that’s a problem.

In his opening statement at Tuesday’s confirmation for Lt. Gen. James Clapper to become the next DNI, Sen. Kit Bond, R-MO, said that the consolidation of intelligence community leadership inside the National Security Council was undermining the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

"We have a staffer on the National Security Council, who most people in the intelligence community believe acts as the DNI," Bond said, not naming Brennan directly. "He calls the shots and even goes on national television to pitch the administration’s viewpoint … This is not good for the country and is contrary to Congress’s intent for the [intelligence community]."

Bond referenced a June 6 Washington Post article highlighting Brennan’s role, such as when he was put in charge of the investigation into intelligence failures leading up to the Christmas Day bombing attempt. The story suggests that Brennan’s report contributed to the ouster of the last DNI, Adm. Dennis Blair.

"Brennan is really doing the job of the DNI," one senior intelligence official told the Post‘s Anne Kornblut. The article also said Brennan’s dominance complicated efforts to find a new director of intelligence. "Who would want the job if Brennan is already doing it?," Kornblut asked.

Bond’s criticism is part in parcel of his overall drive to give Clapper, as the next DNI, more power than previous holders of the position have had. His belief that Clapper might not have the clout to go up against Brennan was one of his initial objections to Clapper’s nomination.

Part of Congress’s frustration over Brennan’s role is that his activities fall largely outside of congressional scrutiny, whereas the DNI is somewhat more accountable to lawmakers.

"Something the George W. Bush administration got right in this area was placing key people in the jobs who were responsible to the Congress," Bond said at the hearing. "The next DNI must have the political clout, the willpower to ensure that our intelligence agencies are able to get their vital work done without being micromanaged by the Department of Justice or the National Security Council."

Bond was clear that his objections to the consolidation of power inside the White House and NSC are not based on criticisms of Brennan personally, but rather on what he sees as a distortion of the traditional role the NSC plays in intelligence policymaking and implementation.

"If the president would like him to act as his principal intelligence advisor and head of the intelligence community, then I’ll be happy to co-host his confirmation hearing with the chair," Bond said. "But if not, then this template needs to change."

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