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Changing of the Guard

Dec 2, 2017
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When Barack Obama takes office, he will apparently appoint a new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and a new leader for the wider intelligence community.

Sources tell the Washington Post that former Air Force General Michael Hayden, the CIA Director, and retired Admiral Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, expect to be replaced by the new administration.

The expectations of Hayden and McConnell are based on the fact that the Obama transition team has not reached out to either intelligence official. Additionally, key Democrats have called for their replacement when Obama takes office in January.

Quite frankly, we’d be surprised if the new president retained either man for his national security team. General Hayden and Admiral McConnell have become convenient targets for left, on issues ranging from interrogation techniques and domestic wiretapping, to the rendition of terrorist suspects to their native countries. In fairness, many of the issues surfaced under their predecessors, although Mr. Hayden served as director of the National Security Agency for six years, a period that coincided with the 9-11 attacks, and domestic surveillance programs to ferret out possible terrorists.

Both Hayden and McConnell are career intelligence officers who are (reportedly) worried about a transition during a time of war. And those concerns are justified, particularly since their potential replacements, former CIA officials John Brennan and Jami Miscik, and onetime Clinton National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, have been “out of the loop” for a while.

In terms of experience, Brennan once served as chief of staff for former CIA Director George Tenet. Ms. Miscik was also a member of Tenet’s team, working as his executive assistant before concluding her career as the agency’s Deputy Director of Intelligence. Lake was once Bill Clinton’s nominee to lead the CIA, until he withdrew his name, due to Republican opposition. Dr. Lake probably sealed his fate by expressing doubts about the guilt of Alger Hiss in a TV interview.

From our perspective, Brennan, Miscik and Lake are less-than-impressive candidates. But that’s not to say that an Obama nominee couldn’t get up to speed and become a capable leader. But there is also a need for an orderly transition at the top of the intelligence community, given the threats we now face. It makes little sense to can Hayden and McConnell on Day One of the new administration, and leave those posts vacant for weeks, or even months.

And the transition problem doesn’t end there. The departure of General Hayden and Admiral McConnell will be accompanied by dozens of subordinates, charged with the supervision of key intelligence programs and functions. If history is any guide, filling those positions will take even longer, leaving the community without senior leadership for an extended period of time. Hayden and McConnell are not without their faults, but they have provided stable, competent leadership at a time the intelligence community needed it most.

Managing the intel transition is a rather simple proposition; as much as the Democrats may dislike the current CIA Director and DNI, they need to decide which official they can tolerate for a few months, maybe even a year. In the mean time, the Obama team can start the process of replacing other senior officials, in a timely, orderly manner.

Now, if they could only do something about the quality of their likely nominees.

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