Saturday, July 20, 2019

Sugar Coats-ing The Problem

Last week Donald Trump made it clear that he not only wanted to fire Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, but eliminate the office Coats is occupying entirely as well.

President Donald Trump is reportedly planning a shakeup of his national security team. The news site Axios reported Friday that Trump is planning to oust Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and, along with several other outlets, identified the president’s preferred replacement as Fred Fleitz, John Bolton’s former deputy and a former CIA analyst best known for his association with a far-right, anti-Muslim think tank.

If appointed, Fleitz could play a key role in reducing the importance of the office itself—further empowering Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the process. A source told Axios that Trump wants to “downsize” the office and considers it “an unnecessary bureaucratic layer,” an argument identical to the one Fleitz made in a 2016 op-ed for the National Review. “The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has developed into a huge additional layer of bureaucracy,” he wrote, “with far too many officials, that has made American intelligence analysis and collection less efficient and more risk-averse.”

With the Pentagon lacking a permanent leader since December and the National Security Council being remade in Bolton’s hawkish image, the intelligence community remains one of the few areas of the national security establishment that thus far has maintained some independence from Trump, (who compared intelligence analysts to Nazis just nine days before taking office). And that may be one reason Trump is eager to shake things up. He has long marginalized Coats, a former diplomat and Republican senator from Indiana, who leads the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies and serves as the president’s senior intelligence adviser. Trump “doesn’t listen to” Coats anymore, Axios reported, though their apparent lack of communication has been evident for quite some time. At the Aspen Security Forum last year, Coats acknowledged that he was unaware of Trump’s invitation for President Vladimir Putin of Russia to visit the White House and would have advised against it. A Senate hearing in January, in which Coats and other intelligence leaders exposed several contradictions between the views of the intelligence community’s and that of the President, provoked a series of angry presidential tweets. In them, Trump derided Coats and other intelligence leaders and told them to “go back to school.”

A big clue as to why Trump suddenly want Coats and the Director of National Intelligence position gone came up yesterday when the notoriously independent Coats decided to actually do something about the fact nobody was protecting US election systems against foreign hackers.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has installed a new czar to oversee election security efforts across the spy world, he announced on Friday.
A veteran agency leader, Shelby Pierson, has been appointed to serve as the first election threats executive within the intelligence community, or IC, Coats said.

"Election security is an enduring challenge and a top priority for the IC," said Coats.

"In order to build on our successful approach to the 2018 elections, the IC must properly align its resources to bring the strongest level of support to this critical issue. There is no one more qualified to serve as the very first election threats executive than Shelby Pierson, whose knowledge and experience make her the right person to lead this critical mission."

Pierson has served within the intelligence world for more than 20 years. She was "crisis manager" for election security for the 2018 election within the office of the DNI and also has served in top roles in the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, according to one official biography.

Her appointment isn't the only change Coats announced on Friday. He also is directing other agencies within the extended family of spy services to appoint their own executives responsible for election security efforts.
"These agency leads will work with the [election threats executive] to help ensure IC efforts on election security are coordinated and prioritized across all IC elements," Coats said.

Needless to say, with both Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell openly sabotaging an efforts to beef up election security, this move by Coats almost guarantees that Trump will fire him and replace him with Fred Fleitz very soon.

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