Holding the Line: DNI Coats On The Record In Aspen

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Here’s my quick high-level reaction to DNI Coats’ lengthy live interview on NBC today.  Fascinating that the Aspen Security Forum is the same week that the US president kowtows to an enemy of the US known to have attacked us, and speaks AGAIN against the US intelligence community.  That has to be one awkward forum.  Yet.  Unbelievably timely.

DNI Coats seems a consummate professional.  He embodies all that we traditionally ask of political appointees – that they look after the interests of their organizations’ mission and staff, while also respecting and serving the chief executive.

While I didn’t agree with DNI Coats through the entire interview, it was surprisingly refreshing and reassuring.  It is critical at this time that our existing institutions remain stable, and this was a very good sign.  His interview and his knowledge indicate that he is holding the line, leading, and doing the work that we expect from the ODNI.

Of note, the ODNI does not control the 16 elements of the US Intelligence Community (IC).  It is a post-9/11 coordination body.  The elements of the IC are spread around the US government.  It appears that the ODNI is generally functioning as intended, as best we can assess this interview.

I encourage folks to watch the entire interview.  This is part of how we can learn about national security, and also be aware of the active issues on the NS radar.  This interview gave a bit more depth on the cyber threat that DNI Coats mentioned on Friday, with the “warning lights blinking red” as they might have before 9/11.  DNI Coats also covered some other threat material that we don’t hear much about these days given the instability of the US itself.  Yet, the NS threats are real.  For perspective, also consider that DNI Coats mentioned today that his focus is always on what’s gone wrong, and on what could go wrong.  The job of the national security world is to look after our security.  It’s not a world of love and light – and as he mentions – joy.

He closed saying that we are lucky to live in these United States.  It was a touching close, from a person who spends his days perusing some of the darkest things the world contains.

“It’s not fun.  You don’t get joy.  But it’s a reward for being involved in a mission that is part of trying to help your country.  I just don’t think people can understand how privileged we are to be born in this country; to live in this country.  I mean we look at our problems – you look at the world’s problems – I mean we are blessed.  We’ve got to make sure people understand that because for all the bickering and the stuff that’s going on – there’s never been a country like this.  There’s never been a place where you have this kind of opportunity.  And we’ve got to preserve that.  We have to do everything we can to preserve it.”

Applause.  Some tears in the room, I am sure.  And then DNI Coats found out via Twitter via his own NBC live interview that the White House invited Mr. Putin to visit this fall.

So.  It was a good interview.  Heartening.  The corner of the national security apparatus that we can see – at least through this window – appears to be functional and holding the line.  The White House – not so much.  We’ve definitely got some huge challenges.  Yet there are good people in place in government – doing the work they are meant to be doing.

Get resilient.  We’re going to need it.



DNI – Director of National Intelligence
IC – Intelligence Community
NS – National Security
ODNI – Office of the Director of National Intelligence

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