Huston: Dan Coats Won’t Be Draining any Swamps

January 6, 2017

by Tom Huston

I am disappointed in Donald Trump’s choice of former Sen. Dan Coats to serve as Director of National Intelligence. Senator Coats certainly has the competency to preside over the massive intelligence bureaucracy if the objective of his tenure is simply to maintain an even-keeled equanimity among the tribes which constitute the intelligence community (IC).

On the other hand, he offers no hope to skeptics of the IC who believe it is bloated, incompetent and institutionally biased against the Trump agenda. During his years in the Senate, Coats was one of the most robust cheerleaders for the IC. His record is one of embracing the spook agenda with little concern for civil liberties or effective spycraft.

Dan Coats is a reasonable man, even-tempered and well regarded, which would be terrific selling points if he were being nominated for a judgeship on the Court of Claims. Unfortunately, he is also a man who shares none of Trump’s sentiments, instincts or passions. The very personal attributes that sustain his reputation as a calming influence render him less likely to stir the bureaucratic waters or carry the fight from the White House to Langley, Fort Mead and the other territorial fiefdoms of the intelligence establishment.

There is also reason to question his management skills: He has no experience managing large organizations, and it was reported in 2001 that President George W. Bush declined to offer Coats the defense portfolio in his cabinet because of his doubt that Coats possessed the necessary management skill set.

The best operational choice as well as the most politically sensitive one would have been Carly Fiorina, who served for many years on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and understands not only the intelligence business but also the management (and restructuring) of bureaucracies.

The political benefits of selecting a woman and a former competitor for the nomination seem obvious. The only conclusion I can draw is that Trump was not personally comfortable with her (or perhaps she with him), and so he elected to take the road most traveled in Washington — the easy one.

Sadly, what we have here is a big miss with respect to that part of the swamp most in need of draining.

Tom Charles Huston, A.B., J.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and a former associate counsel to the president of the United States, served as an officer in the United States Army assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency.


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