THE POST of director of national intelligence (DNI) has had an unhappy five-year history. Until now it has been easier to blame the successive occupants of the position than to acknowledge the fundamental flaws of the office. Much commentary about the recent ouster of Dennis Blair, for example, has focused on his lack of chemistry with the president, his riling of the Israel lobby by attempting to appoint Chas Freeman to head the National Intelligence Council and a deficiency in political street-fighting skills compared to those of CIA Director Leon Panetta. All those no doubt contributed to Blair’s troubles. But one indication that the principal problems are those of the office rather than the occupant is that the job, in such a short time, has now chewed up three able public servants, each of whom excelled in their principal professions (the diplomatic service in the case of the first DNI, John Negroponte, and the military in the cases of Blair and his predecessor, Mike McConnell). More telling still is the difficulty in persuading other able people to take the job. Reportedly, the first to refuse was the future secretary of defense, Robert Gates, one of the most adept officials in Washington at protecting his own reputation; he can certainly recognize a losing hand when he sees one.
From the issue
August 24, 2010