After two months as acting director of National Intelligence, Richard Grenell has more than made his mark by carrying out President Trump’s directions to make American intelligence more efficient and less political.
Director Grenell’s success has infuriated President Trump’s political opponents who want U.S. intelligence agencies to continue to violate its mandate by meddling in domestic politics to undermine the president.
Grenell hit the ground running his first week on the job by removing a top Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) official and requesting the intelligence behind a discredited January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election
He later replaced the head of the bloated ODNI National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), announcing plans for staffing reductions, a move that will reduce the NCTC’s overlap with the more capable CIA Counterterrorism Center.
Richard Grenell also instituted an ODNI hiring freeze and reopened proposals under consideration for the past two years on how to streamline and reduce the huge ODNI staff, now in the thousands.
Perhaps Director Grenell’s most important accomplishment was convincing President Trump to fire ODNI Inspector General Michael Atkinson who helped instigate the Democratic impeachment effort last September when he informed Congress of a complaint against President Trump by a supposed CIA whistleblower.
Republican congressmen believe Atkinson was out of line making this referral because (1) the complaint was not an intelligence matter — and was therefore not in Atkinson’s jurisdiction — and (2) the CIA officer was not a whistleblower at all, but a political operative who tried to help Congressman Adam Schiff and other Democrats manufacture a case for impeachment.
I recently explained in a New York Post op-ed why the decision to fire Atkinson was the right call for these reasons and because he committed a cardinal sin for a U.S. intelligence officer — meddling in domestic politics.
Grenell’s appointment as acting DNI was widely condemned by the foreign policy establishment as well as current and former intelligence officers who claimed he would politicize the ODNI.
But they were really concerned that Grenell would depoliticize American intelligence, uncover intelligence community’s political efforts to undermine the Trump administration, and make U.S. intelligence more efficient.
As a result, it’s no surprise that Grenell’s loudest critics are Trump’s political opponents who have used U.S. intelligence as a weapon to destroy the Trump presidency: former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former DNI James Clapper former CIA Director John Brennan, as well as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.
Rice, who called Grenell a “hack,” accusing him of turning the intelligence community into a Trump re-election tool, undoubtedly is worried he will look into how senior Obama officials — including the Obama administrationcNational Security Council — leaked sensitive National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence.
These leaks were intended to damage Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions during the transition. Obama’s NSC under Rice made hundreds of requests to “demask” the names of Trump campaign staff from NSA reporting so they could leak them to the press.
Similar criticism of Grenell by Clapper and Brennan reflects their concern that he will explore their roles in promoting the false narrative of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
This includes likely efforts by Brennan to press intelligence officers to use the discredited Steele Dossier in their analysis of Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, the misuse of FISA warrants to spy on Trump campaign staff, and their roles in skewing the discredited January 2017 “Intelligence Community Assessment” on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has condemned Grenell for all of the above reasons but is probably more worried that the acting DNI will sharply curtail Intelligence Community cooperation.
Grenell has reason to act, as the U.S. House Intelligence Committee under Rep. Schiff has made unprecedented efforts to politicize the committee’s work to undermine President Trump —and drive him from office.
Some Republicans have called for the Trump administration to cease providing classified material to Schiff because this committee is longer performs meaningful intelligence oversight. More worrisome is that classified information is frequently leaked from the committee to damage President Trump politically.
Grenell may act on this call.
Schiff recently sent a letter to Grenell accusing him of undermining “critical intelligence functions,” keeping Congress in the dark about ODNI organizational changes, and admonishing Grenell that it “would be inappropriate for you to pursue any additional leadership, organizational or staffing changes to ODNI during your temporary tenure.”
Grenell will likely ignore Schiff’s letter.
If confirmed by the Senate to be the new DNI, Congressman John Ratcliffe is certain to continue and expand Grenell’s efforts to depoliticize and streamline the U.S. Intelligence Community.
Because of the coronavirus crisis, Ratcliffe probably will not get a confirmation vote in the Senate any time soon.
In the meantime, Richard Grenell should stay the course in his efforts to make sure America’s intelligence operates efficiently and provides President Trump with the best possible intelligence to keep our nation safe.
Sniping from Rice, Brennan, Schiff and other Trump opponents will not slow Grenell down.
Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee. Twitter: @fredfleitz. Read more reports from Fred Fleitz — Click Here Now.
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