The Trump administration is set to pare desk jobs at the top of the intelligence community, invoking the argument that its staffs are too large and duplicative, knowledgeable sources say.
One of the first targets is the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), where Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany and a favorite of President Trump, arrived as acting director in February.
Mr. Grenell has brought in Kash Patel, once a close aide to Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican. Mr. Patel principally wrote the 2018 Nunes memo that exposed the FBI’s reliance on the discredited Christopher Steele dossier to justify spying on the Trump campaign.
The other focus is a DNI satellite office, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). It is a post-9/11 creation that analyzes the global terror threat, maintains huge databases on suspects and groups, and issues public and secret assessments.
The NCTC now has about 1,000 staffers. Ten years ago, it employed about 500, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The ODNI staff totals between 1,700 and 2,000. The ODNI says the workforce has stayed steady since its birth in 2005, overseeing $60 billion in annual spending, setting strategic policy and serving as the president’s chief intelligence adviser.
“It ballooned at inception,” said Daniel Hoffman, a three-decade CIA clandestine service veteran and a three-time station chief abroad. “I believe that what the current administration is doing is trying to streamline the DNI by reducing the number of people who are there and don’t need to be there.”
Mr. Hoffman told The Washington Times that the ODNI and the NCTC are too large and could be culled to free up more officers and analysts.
The counterterrorism center, he said, competes and sometimes duplicates what the CIA’s office does.
The ODNI was supposed to get rid of “stovepipes” so that information could cross paths among 16 agencies such as the CIA, the National Security Agency and FBI counterintelligence. But he said the ODNI over time began duplicating tasks done at other headquarters.
“Many of us in the senior ranks believe the DNI had become bloated,” said Mr. Hoffman, who practiced his spycraft in the Middle East and Moscow. “And it’s what happens in bureaucracies. It’s just too many people and too many jobs. The DNI was designed to coordinate among the different agencies. Not duplicate the work of the agencies. So there was a lot of mission creep.”
Mr. Hoffman said the coin of the realm within the intelligence world is analysts and clandestine officers.
“We don’t have an unlimited number of smart people doing the work,” he said. “And when you are bringing them to places like the NCTC and DNI and ask them to duplicate the work that is being done at CIA, FBI, that’s a bad allocation of resources. The NCTC in particular was doing work that was very much duplicative of what CIA’s counterterrorism center was doing. We don’t have enough people in the field.”
Mr. Hoffman does not buy Trump allies’ suspicions that the intelligence community is a nest of the “resistance” created by liberals to sabotage the president.
“We care about doing the mission,” he said. “We didn’t have time or care to talk about politics when I was at the CIA. Our work was all about doing our job, about stealing secrets, recruiting spies. The idea there is a ‘deep state’ or ‘resistance’ angers me to no end.”
But within Trump world, including the president, there is suspicion that intelligence agencies harbor a number of administration enemies.
They point to the long Trump-Russia conspiracy probe that featured a number of inaccurate news stories, such as supposed communication intercepts between the campaign and Kremlin, that must have come from U.S. intelligence.
And President Barack Obama’s two top spies, DNI Director James R. Clapper and CIA Director John O. Brennan, in retirement became paid cable TV analysts on CNN and MSNBC, respectively. They repeatedly hurled allegations at Mr. Trump that he was a committed Russian asset — but never offered proof.
Special counsel Robert Mueller found no Trump-Russia election conspiracy. His report contained no evidence that Mr. Trump served as a Russian asset, informant or spy.
“The Russia collusion attack on Trump consisted largely of a corrupt investigation by anti-Trump elements of the Intelligence Community along with countless leaks of false information by the same kinds of people,” said a GOP congressional staffer. “So it’s clear there are a large number of resistance activists in the intelligence agencies who are actively sabotaging the administration they’re supposed to be serving. That’s an absolutely intolerable situation for any president.”
There have been two notable personnel moves since Mr. Grenell took control of the ODNI.
Mr. Trump on Friday notified Congress that he had fired Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general. It was Mr. Atkinson who relayed to Congress the whistleblower complaint about Mr. Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s president. The complaint led to Democrats voting to impeach Mr. Trump and Senate Republicans acquitting him. The whistleblower resides in the intelligence community.
Last month, Mr. Grenell named Lora Shiao to head the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and Claire Linkins as its next executive director.
An ODNI statement said: “They are well-respected career intelligence officials, with deep analytic, operational and leadership experience serving in the Intelligence Community (IC) and are recognized for their focus and commitment to workforce issues, including recruitment, development, retention and morale. Under their direction, NCTC is well-postured to lead the counterterrorism mission into the future.”
As CIA director, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo worked to convince the president that the agency could be his friend in making tough policy decisions. He brought in top analysts to brief him and recommended current Director Gina Haspel as his replacement. Ms. Haspel and Mr. Trump appear to have a good working relationship.
The agencies have provided excellent intelligence for two of Mr. Trump’s biggest decisions: killing ISIS leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi and Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.