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Richard Grenell is a disastrous DNI choice

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CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto says that President Trump's selection of Richard Grenell, who has very little national security experience, to be the next director of national intelligence is an "egregious" choice.

Posted: Feb 20, 2020 7:50 PM
Updated: Feb 20, 2020 7:50 PM

Please, Mr. President, re-think this one. Richard Grenell, as close a friend and ally as he might be, is very much the wrong man at the wrong time as acting Director of National Intelligence. He is a catastrophe-in-waiting who will be in a position he is totally unqualified to hold, one that is central to America's national security.

Most alarming, however, is the reported back story about just how Grenell came to be pitched at the last moment into this job for which he is all but utterly unqualified. The New York Times reported Thursday afternoon that Trump exploded at Joseph Maguire, a veteran intelligence operative who was the current acting DNI after it became known that one tell-it-like-it-is Maguire deputy told a bipartisan congressional committee, including Trump's archnemesis, Adam Schiff, that Russia is back at it again -- pushing Trump's re-election. A source familiar with internal discussions said White House officials saw Grenell as a stopgap -- Maguire's time in the job as an acting DNI was limited, and Trump was dissatisfied with Maguire because of this intelligence briefing.

True, Ambassador Grenell has demonstrated in his years as Ambassador to Germany a clear ability and willingness to defend and promote the Trump agenda. But the role of the DNI, as defined by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Protection Act of 2004 that created the position, requires this individual to "establish objectives and priorities for the intelligence community and manage and direct tasking of collection, analysis, production, and dissemination of national intelligence." Indeed, the DNI's office is specifically mandated to be situated outside not only the offices of any of the 17 disparate intelligence agencies it oversees but even specifies that it "shall not be located in the Executive Office of the President."

There are good reasons for this and that have motivated the choice for the office by every president since it was created in the wake of 9/11—widely seen as a byproduct of the toxic lack of coordination between intelligence agencies. The DNI must be seen as a neutral arbiter among America's vast intelligence community that ranges from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) to the FBI, DEA and intelligence units of the Departments of State, Energy, Homeland Security and Treasury.

The skill set required for the job is also quite clear. He or she must be a mediator, bringing often-conflicting people and ideas together to reach a consensus or at least a viable menu of choices for the president's final decision on life-or-death matters. But above all, this individual must be deeply conversant with the arcane language and practices, sources and methods that make up the core mission of the intelligence communities. Some DNIs have come from the community itself. The most recent and effective, Dan Coats, served for years as a leading member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Rick Grenell brings none of this to the table. Trained largely as a spokesman and advocate, from his first arrival in Germany as ambassador Grenell managed to alienate much of the nation where he was designated as the leading American representative. Two days after his arrival, Grenell, with no diplomatic or managerial background, tweeted to his new hosts: "As @realDonaldTrump said, US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran's economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately." This was only the launching point of a string of intemperate comments that were taken as public threats—an effort to burn rather than build bridges. Yet Germany is not only one of America's most valuable trading and security partners, it also is a most valuable intelligence ally as well—the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) has cooperated closely with the CIA for decades. Grenell spent considerable effort in Berlin warning that Germany's use of Huawei technology in 5G telecom networks would mean the "US won't be able to maintain the same level of cooperation with German security agencies."

Grenell does have one key attribute for a DNI—the President's full and utter confidence. The problem is that he may very well be even more ignorant of intelligence matters than the man he will be advising. And, while the position is seen as determinedly non-partisan, Grenell is very much a polarizing figure, which no doubt is one attribute that appeals especially to the President. Coupled with a long history of nastiness and misogyny that nearly torpedoed his Senate confirmation as ambassador to Germany, his is a resume that bodes ill for this most sensitive of administration positions.

The DNI is supposed to present to the president the best and most objective analysis of the world each day and options, especially in moments of crisis, for presidential action. It is the National Intelligence Council, over which the DNI presides, that is responsible for the PDB — the President's Daily Brief -- which, as its job description states, "organizes the Intelligence Community' daily intelligence reporting to the President." In 1965, I was offered a job (which I ultimately declined) on the recently-formed PDB desk, then located at the CIA. At the time, I was a young college journalist and my background was what they were seeking— an ability to report objectively and accurately on the news (often highly classified) for a single key reader, the president. There is nothing in Grenell's background that suggests any sense or understanding of the nature or value of objectivity.

My overwhelming concern goes even more deeply to the heart of the inevitable crises that will ensue in any Trump presidency. When there is a menu of choices for any specific action, will Grenell reflexively skew his advice to the most extreme, or the most measured and reflective of the ultimate goal? This was the problem when Trump suddenly authorized the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. As The New York Times reported in January: "Some Pentagon officials were shocked that the president picked what they considered the most extreme option and some intelligence officials worried that the possible long-term ramifications were not adequately considered, particularly if action on Iraqi soil prompted Iraq to expel American forces."

The function of the DNI should be to offer sober analysis deeply rooted in the vast trove of facts that our $60-billion-a-year intelligence machine can muster. Richard Grenell hardly seems to be the individual tailored to fill that role.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 608519

Reported Deaths: 9693
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion840461335
Lake45349684
Allen32803548
Hamilton29394315
St. Joseph27380381
Elkhart24404345
Vanderburgh19411249
Tippecanoe17970138
Johnson15069295
Porter14783169
Hendricks14401248
Madison10965221
Vigo10726181
Clark10677144
Monroe9383110
Delaware9116134
LaPorte9065163
Howard8236144
Kosciusko806983
Warrick672999
Hancock6697104
Bartholomew6484100
Floyd6428110
Wayne6136162
Grant5991115
Dubois555579
Boone551168
Morgan541295
Henry507864
Marshall503984
Cass483263
Dearborn479845
Noble473059
Jackson425047
Shelby417581
Lawrence391079
Clinton373043
Gibson370359
Harrison348144
DeKalb347164
Montgomery345754
Knox335639
Miami321444
Steuben313745
Whitley307326
Wabash303251
Adams300936
Ripley298445
Putnam296850
Huntington291659
Jasper289034
White273243
Daviess270474
Jefferson263338
Decatur247683
Fayette247148
Greene239862
Posey239328
Wells236051
LaGrange228862
Scott225339
Clay222532
Randolph213548
Jennings198936
Sullivan192333
Spencer191321
Washington186423
Fountain184027
Starke175443
Jay167623
Owen165737
Fulton164030
Orange159534
Carroll158015
Rush155118
Perry154229
Vermillion149134
Franklin148333
Tipton132332
Parke13078
Pike116926
Blackford111022
Pulaski97037
Newton90921
Brown88035
Benton86610
Crawford7999
Martin73713
Warren6817
Switzerland6615
Union6287
Ohio4907
Unassigned0376

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 859841

Reported Deaths: 10680
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin101171707
Cuyahoga855711125
Hamilton64017448
Montgomery43107418
Summit34836761
Lucas31350625
Butler30973232
Stark25786435
Warren19671140
Lorain19017223
Mahoning17321338
Lake16080154
Clermont15926111
Delaware1438878
Licking13204137
Trumbull12809316
Fairfield1279381
Greene12055137
Medina11591168
Clark10942265
Wood10348158
Allen9897126
Portage9296109
Miami916873
Richland9139118
Marion7459113
Tuscarawas7381182
Columbiana7327124
Pickaway726150
Wayne7034171
Muskingum703141
Erie6152129
Hancock552390
Ross548998
Scioto539164
Geauga508455
Darke470292
Ashtabula453073
Lawrence452654
Union451828
Sandusky436662
Mercer433589
Seneca430166
Huron428741
Auglaize422264
Shelby421222
Jefferson419269
Belmont416840
Washington388740
Athens38009
Putnam374975
Madison355129
Knox352622
Ashland344938
Fulton338443
Defiance330086
Crawford322374
Preble320637
Brown312921
Logan307332
Ottawa293943
Clinton290143
Williams278667
Highland275118
Jackson263845
Guernsey254125
Champaign252028
Fayette236530
Morrow23234
Perry231318
Holmes225474
Henry218749
Hardin213033
Coshocton205622
Van Wert202245
Gallia196726
Wyandot196051
Pike176217
Adams176115
Hocking172024
Carroll155616
Paulding144321
Noble120540
Meigs108624
Monroe100732
Harrison89121
Morgan83130
Vinton70213
Unassigned00
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