The Campaign Spot

The ‘Team of Rivals’ Starts Acting Like . . . Well, Rivals

Fox News quotes unnamed sources that National Security Adviser Jim Jones may not be in his position past the fall, citing poor performance. They write, “one NSC staff member claimed that Jones is so forgetful that at times he appears to have Alzheimer’s disease.”

The Alzheimer’s accusation is particularly mean, but there is a “there” there in this story. Note that a few days ago the Post’s David Ignatius described a turf war between CIA Director Leon Panetta and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair:

Blair, a retired admiral who likes an orderly chain of command, fired off a memo on May 19 claiming the right to install non-CIA officers as his representatives overseas. Panetta, thinking this contentious issue was still under review at the White House, sent a cable the next day saying, in effect, that station chiefs should ignore Blair’s edict until the matter is resolved by the National Security Council. Blair went ballistic, viewing Panetta’s actions as, in the words of one official, “an act of insubordination.”

. . . I’m told the White House is peeved at both Blair and Panetta — neither of whom, apparently, cleared their memos with national security adviser Jim Jones before sending them — and is looking for ways to, as one official described it, “put the genie back in the bottle” before tempers get any hotter.

Ignatius wrote, “If you’re President Obama, watching your two spy chiefs brawling by memo, your reaction surely is: ‘Give me a break.’” It offers a rare moment of absolute sympathy for Obama — you can picture him staring at the two spy chiefs in exasperation, and responding, “You’re grown men. Work it out.”

But short of bringing it to the president, one would think that the National Security Adviser — in particular, the gray-beard, the crusty veteran, the respected elder statesman — would be able to at least partially sort out this dispute between Panetta and Blair. (I thought the DNI was supposed to be in charge of the entire intelligence community, while the CIA director handed the day-to-day running of the Agency? I thought their duties were supposed to be split macro and micro.)

Either way, the turf war was entirely predictable — taking a look at NRO back in 2004:

In its recommendation that we create a director of National Intelligence to “co-ordinate” our intelligence service, the 9/11 Commission ignored the key issue of judgment. In other words, while all this highly touted coordinating is going on, who will be doing the thinking? If we put a DNI on top of the DCI, which one will have the ultimate responsibility for making the call — for deciding what the intelligence service believes about Iraq, about the status of nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea, and about all the other issues on which our country’s security depends?

The 9/11 Commission seems to envisage the new DNI as a sort of bureaucratic Phileas Fogg — suspended in a hot-air balloon over the 15 intelligence agencies, peering down at them through his telescope to see what’s going on. But is the DNI really going to say to the president: “Here’s that new Estimate on Denmark’s Covert Nuclear Weapons Program that the DCI and his people have worked up. I’m just the coordinator, so I don’t have any opinion about it.” Fat chance. From the moment a DNI is named, this official will be calling the shots. And this means that he will need to be in the thick of things — mixing it up 14 hours a day with the analysts and the spies, always available for a quick word or some advice, always hanging around to schmooze and point the way forward. If he does this by putting his office out at CIA headquarters in Langley — which is where the action is — then he’s just the DCI with some expanded authority. If he tries to do this from an office at the White House, or next door at the Old Executive Office Building, he will need to establish his own staff there — in which case all he’s accomplished is to replicate the CIA itself at a new location.

We’re left wondering, though, did Obama think through this when he appointed Panetta and Blair? Do they seem like the kind of men who can work well together? Their jobs pretty much require it . . .


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