January 22nd, 2009
07:45 AM ET
8 years ago

Outgoing intelligence chief looks back at his tenure

WASHINGTON (CNN) - When Mike McConnell began his final news briefing as Director of National Intelligence, he joked with reporters he might have to wake up a few of us, because what he does is "dull stuff."

It might be dull, but McConnell and supporters of intelligence reform would argue the work of the DNI's office is a critical part of keeping Americans safe - addressing the reasons intelligence community failed to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks: its failure to connect the dots, the existence of too many "stovepipes" and a lack of information-sharing.

One of the most important missions of the DNI is to ensure all 16 agencies and departments which make up the intelligence community are all working in sync, all have access to the same information. McConnell says, "a DNI wakes up every day worrying about the community, willing to take on some of these issues of cross boundary activities and work them with a persistence and an aggressiveness that forces closure."

It sounds bureaucratic, but that's the role of the DNI. Yes, the DNI keeps track of the critical national security issues - terrorism, rogue states, weapons of mass destruction, proliferation, cyber protection - but its is the various intelligence agencies who have the operators and the analysts who work the problems. The DNI has to make sure they are doing it as a community.

McConnell wishes there was a Department of Intelligence which would give the DNI absolute authority, but those were not the cards Congress dealt when it created the office in late 2004. McConnell points out there are 16 agencies "who are very protective of their standing and their mission and their prerogatives, who have powerful secretaries who often can be enlisted to support their resistance to change." So it's the DNI's job to break down the bureaucracy and change the culture of the individual members of the community. How does the DNI do that? Well, certainly not alone. McConnell says the White House has to assist because "only the White House is going to give direction to cabinet officers" - that is, those powerful secretaries.

Certainly the Bush administration and the leaders within the intelligence community say the proof that the community is more in harmony today is the fact there have been no attacks against the U.S. since 9/11. In this case, no news is good news - but then again, everyone knows al Qaeda is patient. More than eight and a half years passed between the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and the one that ultimately brought the twin towers crashing to the earth.

As McConnell prepares to step aside for retired Admiral Dennis Blair, President Barack Obama's nominee for DNI, he touted the value of taking part in the President's Daily Briefing. It will be up to the new President to decide who he wants involved in his daily intelligence briefing, but DNI McConnell said his participation each morning with President Bush has made him more of a player. McConnell hears first hand what the President wants to know and how questions are being answered. "How do I guide or influence or direct a community in response to Presidential interest or tasking unless I'm there to take part in the discussion?" asked McConnell.

If McConnell were to leave Blair a note, he said it would suggest the new DNI needs to run the community with "persistence, priorities and determination." But McConnell, who was in charge for two years, sees no need for a note. They've been good friends since their Navy days and have talked often about the new job, which probably means Blair has a pretty good idea about the "dull stuff" he's about to take on.

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soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Tom in Delaware

    No news IS good news...but good news is not news at all to the Mainstrem Media.

    January 22, 2009 08:02 am at 8:02 am |

    I know that if McCain had won, nothing would have been said if the mistake was made on the Oath of Office and any legal issues. This man is a BLACK MAN so get over it. This is another PETTY cry from the Republicans. THIS IS THE MAIN REASON THAT YOU-ALL LOST AND LOST REPUBLICANS LIKE ME BECAUSE YOU KEPT YOUR EYES ON THE MOST NON IMPORTANT THINGS AND NOT THE THINGS THAT MEAN SO MUCH TO THE PEOPLE OF AMERICA.

    January 22, 2009 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  3. Brian G, Sugar Land, TX

    Isn't there a law that all former DNI Directors be lobotomized as a precautinoary measure?

    January 22, 2009 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  4. Dawn

    Maybe now we can be well informed. President Obama will not keep anything from the American people, like Ex-President Bush has done. Bush treated us like we were some sort of morons. As per Bush; "It is in the best interest in the American people. Now did they go to all the people in the United States and ask us if we wanted to know. It is our right to know what is happening in our Country.

    There are people on this blog who feels that President Obama will have a Socialism, well we were really close to have a dictatorship under Dubya. Trust me. If something had happened to Bush, what do you think Chaney would have done. Arrest anyone who critized his policies? Think about that one, fellow bloggers.

    January 22, 2009 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  5. Jon

    What? Bush's DNI and Obama's new DNI appointee are good friends? Cue the "Where's the Change" comments from the Obama-haters and the "Tried for War Crimes" comments from the Bush-haters.

    January 22, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  6. believe

    the last administration came close to ruining America, President Obama will get our countrys dignity back, but it will take time, the republicans thought of no one but their selves for so many years, now they are bitter because they know that America will no longer stand for their arrogant and shameful behavior.

    January 22, 2009 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  7. Mickie

    "Stovepipe" must be one of those spy terms. I love how everyone suddenly has sage advice for the new administration, as if the past 8 years were so golden.

    January 22, 2009 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  8. chuck


    January 22, 2009 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  9. Gordon Shumway

    And the incoming folks can't spell intelligence...........................

    January 22, 2009 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  10. Jim Harvey

    All the Intelligence has left DC, and more to leave soon, I'm sure.

    January 22, 2009 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  11. tee

    My question is, why was there a failure to connect the dots and lack of informations sharing. When the main goal was to keep america safe.
    Once again we had the wrong people in charge. Cronyism when it comes to our safety should not be tolorated.

    January 22, 2009 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  12. kaw

    Simone, first of all this posting board is NOT about the flub up of the oath of office. But since you brought it up...republicans aren't making a big deal out of it. The MEDIA is! And on other boards I've read the democratic posters seem to want to make it into some vast right wing conspiracy by Chief Justice Roberts. It was just a simple stumble by both the Chief Justice and the President as a result of nerves.

    Jeesh, everybody needs to get a grip here and stop all this insane name calling, hatred and finger pointing. It serves no useful purpose!!

    January 22, 2009 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  13. Scott Tucson

    I was surprised that we were not hit since 9/11. But considering the influx of Muslim immigrants from Somalia and what looks like 100K from Iraq within the next year or two, things bound to heat up here. You only need to look at the problems England is having with their ever growing Muslim communities to see how we're going to be facing the same problems.

    January 22, 2009 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  14. WELCOME TO THE OBAMA SHOW!!!!!!!!!!!!


    GET READY!!!!!!!!


    January 22, 2009 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  15. JP

    Most of these comments just exposes the Bush haters for what they really are. People with double standards who hates everything conservative. Unity is what makes America strong, not this kind of hatred and division. I, as a Republican is willing to give Obama the chance to prove himself, more than the Democrats were willing to do 8 years ago. Was it maybe because in President Bush we had a man with principles who could not by swayed by the media and liberal agenda? – They really hated that...

    Fact is, President Bush did keep us safe after 9/11. And on the question of Iraq – while going in might have been because of incorrect intelligence received – my hat off to him for staying the course and not leaving that country to be taken over by anarchy and terrorists again. Liberals wanted to tuck the tail and run long time ago. And by the way, most of the Democrats on Congress who saw the same intelligence as the president were FOR the war before they were AGAINST it.

    Please give credit where credit is due.

    January 22, 2009 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  16. watcher

    No news is good news, except for the bad news that is not news unless it is new news.
    In the immortal words of Donald Rumsfeld: "There are things we know that we know. There are are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also things we do not know we don't know."

    January 22, 2009 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  17. Greg PA

    Jon January 22nd, 2009 9:14 am ET

    What? Bush's DNI and Obama's new DNI appointee are good friends? Cue the "Where's the Change" comments from the Obama-haters and the "Tried for War Crimes" comments from the Bush-haters.
    You sir are a true American. It is clear that you can think for yourself.

    January 22, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  18. risa

    i just know joe biden wife was cute spilling the beans everytime i see her i will laugh hillary did not want to be vp anyway i think everybody knows what she wanted so she OK BARACK I TAKE THE JOB in the meantime barack like i send her on a whirlwind traveling too funny but quite smart so sick crazy rush might have a point

    January 22, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  19. Darth Vadik, CA

    cronies never work out

    January 22, 2009 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  20. TCM

    hey...thanks for censoring my comment earlier...liberal pukes

    January 22, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  21. Grok

    I see the zoo is still pretty rowdy in these parts...

    Good grief people, is it so ingrained that you just can't stop looking for petty crap to argue about?

    At some point we all need to realize that both the left and right points of view have various merits. Combining them, taking the best of each, is much more powerful than either pure ideology.

    Think about it... if you even can.

    January 22, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  22. CA Indie for Obama

    trying to rewrite history. The American public, rep and dem, gave bush a 90% approval rating in the aftermath of 9-11. Most dems and indies like myself dropped support for him when he went into Iraq before getting bin Laden, who was KNOWN AT THE TIME to be the perp of 9-11. Where was his "staying the course" in capturing the murderer of 3,000 Americans on US soil, as he promised at Ground Zero?
    welcome to the Obama show, can you give one solid example of what has been done to lead us down the path to socialism? our regressive tax code is socialism by definition, so you are to a certain degree already a socialist. oh, no examples? typical neocon windbag.

    January 22, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  23. Jill

    Obam has already lessened his transparent way of government. Last night he took the oath of office again and didn't inform the entire press corps...only a select few. Get ready for more sensorship.

    January 22, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  24. Mari

    @ JP.......... I do not hate Bush! Do not accuse and condemn everyone who clearly states the TRUTH about Bush as a hater, we are not! We simply know the TRUTH.

    We are suppose to be a Nation of laws and justice. How is spying on your own Citizens lawful? Bush trashed the Constitution when he allowed the NSA and others to spy on every American! He swore an oath, before God, that he ignored.

    We are angered that Bush tortured in our name! Our Nation was one of the nations that authored the Geneva Convention, and Bush/Cheney broke laws.

    I could go on, but I must once again say that BUSH DID NOT KEEP US SAFE. September 11th happened ON HIS WATCH. The Commission on 9/11 proved that intelligence reports clearly warned of an impending attack via plane, and BUSH did not secure our airports!

    And then of course we can talk about all the LIES Bush told........ why bother ? The problem with the far-right, is that they are blinded by their own egos, their own lies.

    January 22, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  25. redleg

    I wouldn't talk about the Iraq intelligence - Bush cooked it and Congress never saw how bad the kitchen was until too late. One should expect some honesty somewhere, but apparently not in Bush administration intelligence. As far as safe - we lost more Americans to Al Qaeda under Bush than in all prior attacks combined. WE also stopped hunting the masterminds. Keeping America safe on September 12th does not erase eight months of failure. Nor did the anthrax attacks unhappen.

    January 22, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |