Monday, December 20, 2004

National Intelligence Director

Regarding the NID, or whatever she's called, I'm dubious that this position will survive close scrutiny by Constitutional scholars, who will rightly point out that no such role is scripted into the federal framework, even if it's on a rung below the President's, and within the executive branch. It's just too big a job to leave unmentioned, either by ratification of a modification -- or else we might simply admit that we're not really using the Constitution any more (Senator Byrd would be upset, and I would be too).

Already, the whole shadowy network of DCI, DDCI, CIA Executive Director (e.g. Nora Slatkin), CIA Inspector General, CIA Deputy Inspector General (e.g. Ed Applewhite), and so on and so forth, sounds suspiciously anti-American and anti-democracy, until, that is, one really studies American history, and comes to realize that shadowy intelligence circuits have been with us from the very beginning. Indeed, the Revolution was steeped in espionage, with spymasters like Ben Franklin, living overseas, helping to bring it off (the Constitution included -- he was a kind of behind-the-scenes peacemaker (like, imagine trying to pass a document like that with the Congress in session today! (ol' Ben had a very tough job))).

I think the deeper question is the role of the President vis-a-vis the IC. The title "Commander in Chief" gets people spontaneously imagining the Pentagon, where Joint Chiefs head the various rank and file hierarchies (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Special Ops). Less obvious, is the police side of it, a civilian setup that's far less easy to diagram, in terms of rank, awards, other insignia, which the military is used to seeing sewn directly to the uniform. What is the President's title vis-a-vis the police? This question has only gotten more complicated lately, in addition to more urgent, with the Department of Homeland Security materializing in the wake of 911.

I think most in the American public are willing to forgive the CIA and FBI for their existence. Homeland Security, on the other hand, has an eerie Orwellian ring, which is why liberals keep using the word "Stalinist" with reference to the apparent totalitarian bent of some within the Bush administration. I wouldn't bet the house on this particular department sticking around over the long haul. Like the Department of Education, it'll keep showing up on various factional hit lists, for deep budget cuts if not for outright eradication.

As for the FBI and CIA working together more closely, that's a corner people are trying to turn with this controversial new NID position. However, the public doesn't feel at all in the loop on this stuff. The older generation has words of warning for the younger: COINTELPRO, Phoenix, Operation Paperclip and the like. The whole deep shadowy history of domestic spying within the United States, with Hoover a key player, remains perturbing and opaque to most citizens.

Their eagerness for Homeland Security to converge with some potentially domineering Office of the NID, is less than lukewarm. The potential for abuse and corruption within these shadows, especially if controlled behind the scenes by those of totalitarian bent within the President's party, is simply enormous. What happened in Iraq already happens here, in our most brutal prisons. The last thing we need is the spread of that kind of "intelligence." That the Congress wants to visit this on us, and with minimal public discussion, is obviously a recipe for disaster in my book.

At least, that's the way it looks from PDX today. I'll keep reading my newspapers to see if I should think about changing my mind. But for now, I'd say we're in a holding pattern, and rightly so. Much more legwork is required, before we have a working, responsive framework in place, and I share the goal of making that happen -- we all want more security, more democracy, less terrorism.

Update 2005.2.17: the position is actually Director of National Intelligence or DNI, which makes me think of the D'ni in Uru (a classic videogame from Cyan in Spokane). Plus a chief function of the DNI would probably be to deny this, that or the other. As of today, DCers are still worried about filling a "power vacuum" thanks to this newly projected vacancy. The prez is eyeing various candidates. Update 2006.12.20: Senator Byrd is upset.