Dear Jim: Because we have been friends for more than a decade, I think
you should resign as America’s chief intelligence officer. Both for
your own integrity as well as an example to the nation’s foremost
generals, you should do this immediately.
I honestly wasn’t watching “60 Minutes” last Sunday night when
President Obama threw you under the bus, claiming that you and the
intelligence community had under-estimated ISIS. Frankly, my concern
centered more on the performance of Tony Romo than on Barack Obama.
But Sunday evening revealed something deeply and profoundly troubling
about the endlessly evasive Mr. Obama. How can a man smart enough to
hoodwink the Electoral College twice in four years possibly be dumb
enough to turn you and our colleagues in the silent service into his
personal punching bags? What was that, Mr. President, another of your
famous latte salutes?
Even with a complicit, compliant coterie of media fellow travelers
waxing orgasmic over his every utterance, Mr. Obama surely knows that
intelligence officers are fanatics about keeping records. Like when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed she was always being blind-sided by
intelligence developments, our mutual friend, former CIA Director
General Mike Hayden, not only documented the dates when she had been
briefed – but also had copies of the presentation slides.
The same story applies with the President’s Daily Briefing, which Mr.
Obama may or may not have read. So how could this White House possibly
believe that someone from Fox News won’t manage to track down
Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, recently “retired” as Director of
the Defense Intelligence Agency? “General Flynn, how did your
superiors respond when you first warned them about emerging threats
from ISIS and the Khorasan group? And because of your well-known
reputation for candor, were you fired as DIA Director for telling the
truth about ISIS?”
Jim, your steady rise through our ranks shows that you always
understood the First Rule of Intelligence Officers: Although the boss
is never wrong, always be able to prove that your estimate was better
than his. And that you tactfully told him so. This principle has never
been difficult to apply with a president who constantly alienates
friends, embraces enemies and spouts endless torrents of
disinformation. So we understood - sort of - when you testified to
Congress in 2011 that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was a secular
“umbrella group” that had largely “eschewed violence.” We knew that
you knew otherwise and figured you were just providing cover for the
boss, another clown act in the daily Capitol Hill circus.
But the problem with such dissembling is that the DNI is supposed to
be the nation’s chief intelligence officer –trust being the key to his
job performance and credibility. Any of us who have ever served in a
craft where preserving one’s own secrecy, stealing the other guy’s
secrets, and routinely employing deception to do so can create an
uncertain moral universe. The intelligence officer’s personal
integrity is one of the few constants in that ever-shifting hall of
So what happens when Washington intell-i-crats shade the
truth in congressional testimony or appear to tip the intelligence
scales for purely political reasons? So is ISIS a threat to the
American homeland - or not? Is Vladimir Putin the newest threat to
European security or just a 19th century misanthrope soon to be
eclipsed by 21st century modernism? The candid judgments an
intelligence officer is prepared to give often reflect his faith in a
chain of command that has his back. In short, can he and his
colleagues trust the boss?
Jim, you were selected as DNI because of your reputation as the kind
of leader people instinctively trust. More than anyone else, you also
understand that the president is responsible for the nation’s
intelligence system, his decisions and preferences inevitably
determining the quality of intelligence he receives. If the chief
executive deliberately averts his eyes from the real world, then the
fault rests neither with you nor the intelligence community.
Presidents are accountable for the advice they take as well as what
they choose to ignore, including ISIS. But if he won’t listen, then
why should you stay?
My friendly suggestion is that you and the nation’s other top generals
step away from this president, letting history decide his fate. A
generation ago, your predecessors failed to confront their president
over his leadership of the Vietnam War, thus sharing full
responsibility with LBJ for every subsequent tragedy in that long
debacle. The vital lesson from their example: Far better to resign
with honor rather than to let down the American people who pay your
Col. Ken Allard, retired from the Army, is a former NBC News military analyst and author on national security issues.