S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Intelligence -- the next phase

President-elect Barack Obama got his first in-depth regular intelligence briefing from DNI Mike McConnell, according to Joby Warrick at the Washington Post. Obama was asked about this at his first news conference yesterday, but he declined to discuss it in any depth. To quote the article (Post's links):

For nearly an hour yesterday, President-elect Barack Obama met with two of the country's top intelligence officers for an important rite of passage: his first full-blown classified briefing on national security.

. . . The Obama camp has offered no hints of how it plans to fill top intelligence posts, including the positions of director of national intelligence, now held by Mike McConnell, and CIA director, held by Michael V. Hayden. The decision is particularly complicated, because the rules and traditions for selecting intelligence officials are somewhat different from those for other administration appointees.

Unlike the directorship of the FBI, the top posts at the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence do not come with a set term that transcends presidential administrations. And, while both officials are appointed by the president and serve at his pleasure, the White House has broader discretion in filling intelligence posts and can elect to keep the current leadership in place.

We did hear a bit, however. P-E Obama said that intelligence gathering can always improve, adding that he believes there has been improvement already. Already in the national security groove, he declined to tell MSNBC's Candy Crowley whether anything he heard "gave him pause."

President-elect Obama now has an official transition website, "" Here is what the "agenda/homeland security" section has to say about Intel and civil liberties. To quote:

    Improve Intelligence Capacity and Protect Civil Liberties

  • Improve Information Sharing and Analysis: Barack Obama will improve our intelligence system by creating a senior position to coordinate domestic intelligence gathering; establishing a grant program to support thousands more state and local level intelligence analysts and increasing our capacity to share intelligence across all levels of government.

  • Give Real Authority to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board: Created by Congress and recommended by the 9/11 Commission, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board needs to be substantially reformed and empowered to safeguard against an erosion in American civil liberties. As president, Barack Obama will support efforts to strengthen the Board with subpoena powers and reporting responsibilities, will give the Board a robust mandate designed to protect American civil liberties and will demand transparency from the Board to ensure accountability.

  • Strengthen Institutions to Fight Terrorism: Overseas, Barack Obama will establish a Shared Security Partnership Program to invest $5 billion over three years to improve cooperation between U.S. and foreign intelligence and law enforcement agencies. This program will include information sharing, as well as funding for training, operations, border security, anti-corruption programs, technology, and the targeting of terrorist financing.

Warrick's WaPo article speculated about heads of Intelligence Services replacements and revealed that McConnell expects to be replaced as DNI, but that General Hayden might be willing to continue to head the CIA, stating that,

Within intelligence circles the speculation is centering on former intelligence officials who are close to the Obama team, including John O. Brennan, the former interim director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), former ranking minority member of the House intelligence committee. . .

Both men [Haden & McConnell] assumed their current jobs in Bush's second term and were not directly tainted by the controversies over faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or the decision to use waterboarding and other harsh techniques on suspected terrorists in secret CIA prisons.

When the new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act bill was passed in June 2008, I was very disappointed that (then) Senator Obama voted for it. We now know that his vote was clearly a manifestation of his Pragmatist self, intended to reinforce his national security credentials for the election. My post written at the time includes his statement about what drove his decision. My hope today is that his Constitutional Law professor self will kick in and make changes that will reinstate our lost civil liberties. Time will tell.

The Obama transition website,, has a section titled "American Moment," where readers are invited to "share your story" or "share your vision." Transparency and participation being the hallmarks of an Obama presidency, I am thinking of sending our next president (ONP, as opposed to OCP, our current president) some thoughts from my Civil Libertarian self. Any suggestions?

View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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