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Trump Still Needs To Pick A Nominee To Head National Intelligence


This morning, the Trump transition team has announced another top staffing decision. Kellyanne Conway, the woman who was seen as instrumental in helping Trump win the presidency, will follow him to the White House as a, quote, "counselor to the president." Conway has been in Trump's inner circle since the last few months of the campaign and even now, as he puts together his cabinet. There's still one big job left unfilled, the director of national intelligence, or DNI. This position was created after 9/11 to function as the president's pricipal adviser on intelligence. With us now is David Shedd. He's a 30-year veteran intelligence officer and former acting director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Thanks for being here.

DAVID SHEDD: Delighted to be here, Rachel. Good morning.

MARTIN: The director of national intelligence, on paper at least, leads the many agencies that make up the country's intelligence network. These agencies, as you know, are fiercely independent, can be competitive with one another. In your experience, has this post done what it was supposed to do?

SHEDD: It's a mixed story in terms of what the director of national intelligence has been able to do in a little over 10 years, since it was created. It is, however, an important post from the standpoint of being able to, as you suggest, herd the cats of these intelligence agencies - 16 in all, separate of - of the DNI's office itself. And I see two very valuable roles that it plays.

One is it brings the intelligence analysis together in terms of what's provided to the president and his national security cabinet, as well as to the war fighter as well and making sure that the intelligence is both aligned to the requirements that those individuals have, but also pointing out where there are differences in that intelligence analysis. The other thing - and I think this is absolutely critical - it frees up the director of CIA, who formerly was also part of the DCI role, to actually...

MARTIN: He was managing the bureaucracy.

SHEDD: ...Manage the bureaucracy of CIA. And that would be, if confirmed of course, Mike Pompeo, coming in behind John Brennan. And in doing so, really dedicating the time as DNI to organizing the investment schemes and the requirements for the supporting parts of the intelligence community.

MARTIN: Why do you think Donald Trump has waited to fill this job? Is it just waiting for the right candidate, or is there something particularly challenging about this?

SHEDD: I think he has waited because, as we've seen in the selection of secretary of state and some of the more complex portfolios, he wants to get the right person into that position. And I might add, the principal deputy for DNI is also a critical position. In other words, it's a team. And so selecting both the DNI and that number-two position there as a - if you will, a manager of programs of the intelligence community, is critical.

MARTIN: When you were at the Defense Intelligence Agency, you were the civilian deputy to Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who will be the president's - the president-elect's national security adviser. General Flynn was fired from that position. Since then, he's gotten himself mired in controversy - trafficking in fake news stories, tweeting out inflammatory comments about Muslims. National security advisers - this isn't usually such a public lightning rod. Do you think General Flynn is a good fit for this position?

SHEDD: Well, that's - it's a difficult question until I actually see him carry out the position. I come from a schooling, in my four and a half years at the White House under Dr. Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, as individuals that acted far more as facilitators for carrying out the president's agenda among the national security cabinet members and then also being an honest broker where those differences exist. And so I ask myself, in terms of now-retired General Flynn, on how well he'll be able to execute that role. And as you suggest, Rachel, it is a role that really plays far better in the background than in the frontlines of publicity.

MARTIN: Donald Trump's relationship with the intelligence community is starting off rocky. He's dismissed the conclusions that Russia interfered in our election. He's delegated the daily intel briefing to others to get. What do you hear from your former colleagues about the impact this is having on the intelligence community?

SHEDD: Well, I think there's a wait-and-see attitude among my former colleagues in the sense of winning over the president-elect in terms of intelligence. Let me just point out that oftentimes the politicians, when they arrive into the post of president, in this case, there is a maturing that needs to take place in terms of the relationship. And oftentimes the politician arrives wanting true and false question answers from the intelligence community as opposed to essay responses and oftentimes wants a yes or no in a very direct way. And I would suggest that the president-elect is - has that expectation.

MARTIN: David Shedd is former acting director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, now a fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Thank you so much.

SHEDD: Delighted. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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