Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell has made streamlining America’s massive intelligence apparatus a top priority since President Donald Trump tapped him for the position on Feb. 19.
But that has placed Grenell at odds with top Democrats in Congress, who have accused him of both lacking the experience for the position and politicizing the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
Tuesday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing for Republican Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe’s nomination to become the permanent DNI is expected to be an opportunity for critics to resurface those attacks on Grenell, a senior intelligence official told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Former CIA officer Douglas London — a frequent critic of both Trump and Grenell — described Grenell and Ratcliffe as “at best, novices at intelligence” in a Sunday New York Times op-ed that also got Attorney General William Barr’s name wrong, referring to him as “Robert” before the paper issued a correction.
London predicted that Grenell “will often be overwhelmed and outmaneuvered by the intelligence community’s independence and skill.”
Grenell’s prioritization of reforming America’s embattled intelligence community has particularly placed him at odds with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat.
Schiff and Warner have both accused Grenell of being too inexperienced for the position, even in a temporary manner.
But the senior intelligence official told the DCNF that someone with an experienced background as a consumer — like Grenell — rather than a producer of intelligence is better positioned to reform the DNI than, for example, a career bureaucrat from within the intelligence community’s ranks.
Grenell has received intelligence briefings as early as 2001 — roughly eight years before Warner became a senator — when he started working for the State Department.
Grenell has used thousands of intelligence briefings in a variety of roles between then and his current DNI stint, including as State Department spokesperson to the United Nations, alternate representative to the UN Security Council with full voting rights and privileges, and U.S. Ambassador to Germany where he oversaw one of the largest CIA stations in Berlin, the senior intelligence official told the DCNF.
Schiff chastised Grenell in an April 6 letter for reorganizing the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which led to the departures of then-acting NCTC Director Russell Travers and acting Deputy Director Peter Hall.
But Schiff’s letter didn’t mention that Lora Shiao, who is now the acting NCTC director after serving as the number three official behind Travers and Hall, had long been an advocate of reforming the agency, the senior intelligence official told the DCNF.
“The [ODNI] staffers are so sick and tired of [Schiff] politicizing the intelligence community for his own gain,” a senior intelligence official previously told the Daily Caller.
Grenell fired back in a letter to Schiff, voicing his “surprise that your four-page letter said nothing about the historic appointment of the first female Director of the National Counterterrorism Center.”
“Instead, you expressed concerns regarding the retirement of the former male Director. You erroneously cast judgment on the reason of his departure while ignoring the accomplishments of NCTC’s new leadership, two highly qualified female officers serving as the Acting Director and Acting Deputy Director,” he added.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board said in 2017 that the DNI has “often become a dumping ground for second-raters that other agencies want to ditch—with 1,750 employees,” and endorsed the idea of shrinking the agency.
Amid criticism from the left, Grenell is still working to reform the intelligence apparatus. Media outlets reported last week that Grenell signed a directive on April 29 ordering all 17 intelligence agencies to review how they handle the “unmasking” of U.S. citizens.