Who's the spy boss?
CIA Director Nominee John Brennan and DNI James Clapper
January 14th, 2013
12:01 AM ET

Who's the spy boss?

By Pam Benson

Creating the office of the director of national intelligence in 2005 was meant to improve the management of the nation’s intelligence gathering in the wake of 9/11, but it has often led to turf wars between national intelligence directors and directors of the CIA.

Now President Barack Obama’s nomination of his trusted counterterrorism aide, John Brennan, as CIA director may leave the impression the CIA director is the top spy, even though the director of national intelligence technically would be his boss.

The problem, past directors in both posts and other experts say, is that the DNI’s role is ambiguous.

The job of DNI was created to reform the intelligence community after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the faulty intelligence that suggested Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Before that time, the CIA director not only ran the spy agency but also had a second title, director of central intelligence, which was responsible for coordinating the activities of the 16 agencies and departments that make up the intelligence community.

An independent commission that reviewed the intelligence failures concluded, and Congress agreed, that one person should focus exclusively on guiding the community. Running the CIA, the review concluded, was a full-time job on its own.

Thus began the role of the director of national intelligence, who runs the entire community and is the chief intelligence adviser to the president. It was not long before tension emerged.

In 2009, outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden told reporters that there is a natural tension between the CIA and DNI, but "it's not a bad structure."

However, he did suggest that the DNI's office was getting a bit bloated and said, "Americans being Americans, they're going to fill up their day trying to do something impactful, which means between the two of us, there's going to be a trench line."

Also departing at the same time was national intelligence director Mike McConnell. His response to Hayden’s observation: "Any time you have organizations with similar interests, you're going to have disputes, and particularly if the two leaders aren't working together and having a partnership … the warfare at the trench level gets to be pretty much a raging battle,” he said. “We don't have a department of intelligence. If this were the Department of Defense, there wouldn't be any question, but it isn't."

Soon afterward, their successors, DNI Dennis Blair and CIA Director Leon Panetta, butted heads.

Because he led the intelligence community, Blair wanted control over who would be the chief spy in any given country, not necessarily relying on the CIA's station chief. He also wanted more say in covert operations. Panetta wasted no time letting the White House know he was not prepared to lose authority over either.

James Jones, then the national security adviser, mediated the dispute and ultimately decided the CIA would have a direct line to the West Wing on covert operations and retain control over choosing the top spy in each country.

It was the beginning of the end for Blair, who was later forced out.

Lee Hamilton, who was co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, has often said the intelligence reform legislation was too "ambiguous," and as long as it remains that way, the DNI and CIA director will fight for jurisdiction and power.

Add to that burning fire the fuel of Brennan. If he gets the CIA job, a person who just spent the past four years in the White House as the President's most trusted aide on counter terrorism and intelligence matters will lead the agency. Now Brennan can walk into the Oval Office or directly call Obama any time of the day or night when there is a crisis. Often in Washington, the ultimate sign of power is one’s proximity to the president.

Brennan will lose some of that when he moves across the river to Langley.

He will still report directly to Obama on covert operations, but otherwise his boss will be DNI James Clapper, ostensibly the president's principle intelligence adviser. But for the last four years, Washington insiders came to believe that Brennan was, for all intents and purposes, filling that role while in the West Wing.

"Brennan has sort of become the de facto senior intelligence adviser to the president," said Frances Fragos Townsend, who held a similar position to Brennan’s at the White House during the Bush administration.

A former senior intelligence official who would only speak on the condition of anonymity said within the Obama administration, there is a different metric.

"Checking the plumbing and keeping the trains running on time really is what the DNI is doing, and the president is looking elsewhere for that final, critical, definitive intelligence advice," the official said.

Will that advice come predominantly from Brennan, who has had such open access to the president, rather than Clapper, effectively bypassing him?

Jones, who has worked firsthand with both Brennan and Clapper, doesn't foresee any real turf battles, even though the two men will not always agree.

"John Brennan and Gen. Clapper are two of the most consummate professionals I have ever worked with," said Jones, a former national security adviser to Obama. He believes "they will work hand-in-glove together."

The two men do have a history of working together in the intelligence community, especially over the past four years.

"Every indication I've ever had is that they like and respect each other," Townsend said, adding she was unaware of any major disagreement between them.

When asked by CNN if Clapper believed his authority as head of the intelligence community would be in any way compromised by Brennan being CIA chief, DNI spokesman Shawn Turner said: "Director Clapper leads the intelligence community, and he's always had great relationships with the directors of the (other) agencies, especially the CIA. That will not change when John is at the helm at the agency. He and the DNI are longtime friends and colleagues. They have always trusted and respected each other in their respective roles and I'm confident that will continue to be the case."

And the bottom-line, according to Townsend, is not whether the national intelligence director or CIA director is considered the president's senior intelligence adviser; every president will have his own model.

It's about getting the job done, and providing the president with accurate, timely and effective advice.

"If you make it about the mission and where the capability lies, and these two guys put their egos aside, then you ought to be OK," Townsend said.

And Jones said that's what these two will do. "It's not about them. These are two people whose egos are completely in check."

soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Gustavo Perdomo

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    Our personal internet page
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    May 6, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Reply
  2. michael

    We will not be defeated !
    We are forever !
    May God find you awake !

    January 14, 2013 at 11:33 pm | Reply
    • More Proof We Own You

      Think about it . . . .you know we own you.

      At first, by controlling the banking system we were able to control corporation capital. Through this, we acquired total monopoly of the movie industry, the radio networks and the newly developing television media. The printing industry, newspapers, periodicals and technical journals had already fallen into our hands. The richest plum was later to come when we took over the publication of all school materials. Through these vehicles we could mold public opinion to suit our own purposes. The people are only stupid pigs that grunt and squeal the chants we give them, whether they be truth or lies.

      We are the zine-0-ists . . . . we are the israelies . . . .just keep the money coming!

      hee hee

      January 16, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  3. michael

    But we can depart from the state and take who we will!

    January 14, 2013 at 11:31 pm | Reply
  4. michael

    I am who i am i cannot depart from whom i am!

    January 14, 2013 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  5. michael

    God said Raise the children the way and they will not depart from it !
    But teach them they are apes and they will walk and talk and act like an ape!

    January 14, 2013 at 11:28 pm | Reply
  6. michael

    we have the keys to his life!

    January 14, 2013 at 11:26 pm | Reply
  7. michael

    Satin wants his freedom! what do think we should do!

    January 14, 2013 at 11:25 pm | Reply
  8. michael

    Cia design to protect you who protect the cia!?

    January 14, 2013 at 11:23 pm | Reply
  9. michael

    you say this is my life this is my house this is mine mine mine when you own not one thing!?

    January 14, 2013 at 11:22 pm | Reply
  10. michael

    Why do you call things yours!

    January 14, 2013 at 11:20 pm | Reply
  11. michael

    Why are you so afraid, and why do you not obey ?

    January 14, 2013 at 11:19 pm | Reply
  12. michael

    You can only see what you were designed to see to understand only what we teach you to live and wonder be cause he said so -no other reason!

    January 14, 2013 at 11:17 pm | Reply
  13. michael

    These are real questions! you should wonder what are who we are!

    January 14, 2013 at 11:14 pm | Reply
  14. michael

    Do you fear no having control!?

    January 14, 2013 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  15. michael

    Soon separation as you wish of church and state will come! Amen!

    January 14, 2013 at 11:10 pm | Reply
  16. michael

    Keep doing what you do you will keep getting what you get!

    January 14, 2013 at 11:08 pm | Reply
  17. michael

    All is noted!
    If man was a million years older do you think he could take life from on planet to another!

    January 14, 2013 at 11:07 pm | Reply
  18. michael

    You Cannot pledge to one and love the other!

    January 14, 2013 at 11:05 pm | Reply
  19. michael

    who runs this country you and your gang are god?

    January 14, 2013 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  20. michael

    Does your head hurt!

    January 14, 2013 at 11:00 pm | Reply
  21. michael

    Being paranoid is a mental Illness!

    January 14, 2013 at 10:59 pm | Reply
  22. michael

    People that spy have deep issues would you like to lay on my couch!

    January 14, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Reply
  23. michael

    We are linguistic too!

    January 14, 2013 at 10:57 pm | Reply
  24. michael

    Would you like to take about those feelings?

    January 14, 2013 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  25. michael

    How does it make you feel! ((((((((

    January 14, 2013 at 10:55 pm | Reply
  26. Bangash

    APPEAL ON HUMANITARIAN GROUNDS
    No doubt CIA is king maker in America as well as, other parts of the world and in this way deciding fate of the world and all humanbeings in this univers.When you asume charge as chief of USA, in the name of humanity kindly look into the past of CIA, specially after WW II and see what so far CIA has earned for nation and what it has contributed to the world of today. If you see that it has served and made America and Americans proud of where they stand today and has mad America proud of its role in making the world of today then OK feel proud to be the one among your predecessors. But if you see that neither America is safe nor the world due to sensles operations at home and abroad. Again I quote UN survey reports when revealed that the billions of dollars spent on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, if had been spent on the welfare of humanbeings in the world it would have enabled each individual on the surface of earth to have clean drinking water, education and food. Difference is clear and now ball is in your court and see which America you will like to see, the saviours of humanity or the killers as usual.

    January 14, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Reply
    • Bangash

      I mean chief of CIA not USA.

      January 14, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  27. Paul L

    Why does gov't only get larger, and less efficient?

    January 14, 2013 at 9:33 am | Reply
  28. Bibi's The Man

    We're the boss . . . we own Obama and our boy Clapper works for us.

    When will you stu-pud Americans realize we have taken over your country. It's simple to understand . . . . you dopes stole the land from the Indians, and we have conquered you dopes. Everyone gets beat and we're beating you stu-pud dopes.

    Look at any map of the Middle East . . . you'll see we have Iran surrounded with your stu-pud military. You would have thought by now after you have been told Obama silenced Bin Laden, the war in Afghanistan would have been over, but now way . . . .we have your military in Afghanistan so they will be ready to go to attack Iran when we say. Expect that war to begin sometime in the spring.

    So no matter what you dopey Americans may worry about and wonder who runs your spy agencies, remember this:

    WE RUN YOUR COUNTRY!!

    WE ARE YOU MASTERS!

    WE ARE THE ISRALIES AND YOU ARE OUR SLAVES!

    YOU EXIST TO SEND US YOUR MONEY!

    And if you are a good goyim, we'll let you buy an apple for $5 on credit . . . maybe we'll give you some food stamps.

    Give us trouble and we'll take you to jail.

    Yipppeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

    January 14, 2013 at 3:45 am | Reply

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