On Tuesday, a Texan moved one step closer to becoming the nation’s top intelligence officer. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to advance the nomination of Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe of Heath, Texas.
Steve Slick is director of the Intelligence Studies Project, a partnership between the Clements Center for National Security and the Strauss Center for International Security and Law, both at the University of Texas at Austin. Between 2005 and 2009, Slick served as a special assistant to the president and the senior director for intelligence programs and reform on the staff of the National Security Council. He told Texas Standard host David Brown on Wednesday that the position of director of national intelligence, or DNI, was created about 15 years ago in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
“The director of national intelligence is first and foremost the head of the U.S. intelligence community,” Slick said. “And that’s a 17-agency organization scattered around six different cabinet departments.”
Additionally, the DNI serves as principal intelligence advisor to the president.
Ratcliffe was previously considered for the DNI job, but withdrew his name before confirmation hearings began. Slick said it isn’t clear why Ratcliffe withdrew, but media reports said some Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, including then-chairman Richard Burr, had concerns about Ratcliffe’s qualifications for the job. Ratcliffe’s strong support for President Donald Trump also led critics to worry that Ratcliffe might politicize the DNI position.
Slick said the DNI job in the Trump administration has been frustrating to those who have held it, including former Sen. Dan Coats, who resigned last year.
“It’s not easy being President Trump’s intelligence advisor,” Slick said.
Slick said it’s important that the DNI position be free of politics. Richard Grenell, who has held the position on an interim basis, has come under fire for what critics say are his lack of qualifications and his outspoken support of Trump.
“Credibility is everything in intelligence,” Slick said. “And if the people receiving U.S. intelligence think that it might have been shaded in any way to favor the president’s preferred position, that’s just very damaging for our own policy and for our standing in the world.”
If Ratcliffe is confirmed by the Senate, he will face a number of issues, including the impact of COVID-19, a potential repeat of Russian interference in the upcoming presidential election and cyberattacks sponsored by the Chinese government.
Web story by Shelly Brisbin.
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