National Intelligence Director

NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR….George Bush has decided to accept the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation to improve coordination of U.S. intelligence efforts by creating a national intelligence director. But there’s a surprise: this new director won’t work out the White House, as the commission suggested. Dan Drezner is, um, surprised:

I’ll admit to being gobsmacked ? not because Karl Rove might be reading my blog, but because the Bush administration had an opportunity to centralize policy authority and passed. Their proposed reform might be even better, because it provides one layer of bureaucratic protection from the overt political manipulation of intelligence. However, for a White House ? any White House ? to decline placing an important bureaucracy inside the Executive Office of the President is unusual.

It does seem odd, and lack of office space in the West Wing is probably not the answer. So what is?

Here’s my guess: Bush felt pressured to accept the commission’s recommendations, but Don Rumsfeld was not happy about the idea of his intelligence apparatus being under someone else’s thumb. The answer they came up with was twofold: accept the idea of a national intelligence director, thus showing that they take the commission’s recommendations seriously, but weaken its powers by housing it in its own building.

Why? Because it’s a truism of DC power politics that anyone who works directly out of the White House has more influence than someone who doesn’t. The Pentagon probably feels that it can handle another high-level bureaucrat, but isn’t so sure it can handle one who actually works directly in the White House and talks to the president and his aides on a regular basis.

Needless to day, Bush is spinning this as a way of keeping the new intelligence director independent, but I think the real story is the Pentagon’s desire to keep the director’s oversight as weak as possible. Keeping him out of the White House is the best way to do that.

And here’s an even more interesting question: does Bush even know this is what’s happening? Or is he himself being spun by Don Rumsfeld?