Avril Haines will have her confirmation hearing next week for the position of the director of national intelligence (DNI). Confirmation hearings should allow both Congress and the public to hear the nominee’s approach to the pressing issues the nominee will face if confirmed, and provide needed transparency on the leadership intentions of the nominee.
Given the DNI’s role as leader of the sprawling and critically important U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), the DNI nominee should be prepared to present their vision for the role, their leadership philosophy, and how they will lead the IC during this time of great turmoil and adversity. That includes a conversation about the authorities of the DNI and whether any should be strengthened.
Following conversations with IC experts, and building off of our recent coverage (which you can find at the bottom of this piece) about intelligence reform and the challenges the next intelligence leaders would face, Just Security distilled the following list of key policy issues that Congress should address in Haines’ confirmation hearing:
Politicization of intelligence. This has always been an important issue for the IC and every DNI has denounced the politicization of intelligence. However, as the IC analytic ombudsman recently reported to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, under the Trump administration there have been “several incidents where there were attempts to politicize intelligence,” “strong efforts to suppress” certain analytic products, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has not always “followed standard procedure for the drafting, editing, approval, and dissemination of analytic products related to election interference.” There have been reported clashes between career analysts and political appointees, and “significant errors in [IC] reports last year to Congress and the public” regarding interference in the 2020 elections.
The legitimacy of the IC depends on fixing these problems – and that means restoring the trust of the IC’s own workforce as well as regaining the confidence of Congress and the American people in the integrity of the IC’s analysis. It is more critical than ever to understand how the DNI nominee conceives of the proper role of intelligence in senior policy discussions, as well as how she plans to ensure the intelligence produced by the IC is completely free from undue political influence or perceptions of politicization.
Foreign/domestic divide. The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has shined an overdue light on the threat of domestic terrorism. While the IC is foreign-focused, there is no doubt that the lines between foreign and domestic intelligence issues continue to blur, as foreign actors interfere in U.S. elections, hack our online systems, spread disinformation, and actively work to take advantage of our political division. This makes it all the more complicated to understand the role the IC can and should play in monitoring domestic threats. The proper role of the IC as national security policy continues to cross foreign and domestic spheres will become a growing question that raises, among other things, privacy and civil liberties issues.
Congress should get Haines’ views on how the nation can both take advantage of the talent and resources in the IC to address these mounting challenges, while also safeguarding Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.
Surveillance, privacy, and civil liberties. While recent focus on surveillance and privacy abuses have focused on domestic law enforcement agencies and the targeting of peaceful protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement, there have, of course, been concerns regarding how the IC handles privacy and civil liberties for decades. Any IC nominee, and especially the DNI, should be prepared to address the lawful use and limits of surveillance tools and safeguards to ensure against abuse.
The Court of Justice of the European Union’s recent ruling in Schrems II compounds this already thorny set of issues by adding a new dimension – the privacy rights of foreign nationals vis-a-vis U.S. surveillance. As Jennifer Daskal has written for Just Security, the recent decision “is the second time in five years that the CJEU struck down a key EU-U.S. agreement that companies rely on to lawfully transfer personal data from the European Union to the United States” over inadequate privacy protections. Congress should ask the DNI nominee how she sees the IC’s role in addressing the crucial relationship with the European Union on privacy and surveillance issues.
Cybersecurity. Haines should be prepared to address her views on the evolving role of the IC in election security, supply chain security, and data security, which are all critical to our nation’s overall cybersecurity posture. In light of the recent failure to protect against the massive SolarWinds hack, Congress should ask the nominee how she intends to ensure the IC is prepared to protect against espionage threats in the cyber domain, which can have enormous consequences for the government and the private sector.
Misinformation and disinformation. The IC will need to find its way in a world awash with falsehoods and deep fakes that make it harder and harder to know the truth – which is exactly what the IC is charged with knowing. It would be helpful for Congress to understand Haines’ views on what the IC’s approach should be for dealing with misinformation and disinformation so that both intelligence officers and policymakers can have confidence in the IC’s insights.
Emerging technology. It is important to understand Haines’ thinking on how the IC may need to partner with the private sector to take advantage of emerging technology, while also being prepared to defend against its use by adversaries.
Near-peer adversaries. The IC, of course, must continue to focus on Russia and China in terms of countering influence and counterintelligence issues. While these challenges confront the entire national security apparatus, the role of the IC in this regard is critical.
Infectious disease and climate change. These are not areas on which the IC has traditionally focused, and yet today it is unfathomable that the IC would not be involved in helping to inform policymakers about infectious disease and other public health issues, as well as threats driven by climate change, that will impact our national security. How the IC plays that role, including its interface with domestic agencies charged with formulating policy in these areas, is an important issue that Haines will have to confront.
Transparency. Underpinning all of these issues is the nominee’s commitment to transparency in interactions with Congress and, when appropriate, with the American public. As former senior ODNI officials Corin Stone and Alex Joel recently wrote at Just Security,
[e]nhancing transparency while still protecting sources and methods… requires leadership commitment at the top, widespread buy-in from the workforce, and a great deal of painstaking dedication and effort to ensure that information is accessible and understandable by people not steeped in these issues.
Congress should ask the DNI nominee how she intends to lead on transparency.
Just Security’s recent coverage of intelligence reform and the challenges ahead:
Getting the T’s and C’s Right: The Lessons of Intelligence Reform by Alex Joel and Corin R. Stone
How to Revitalize the Intelligence Community: A Long, But Essential To-Do List by George Croner
CIA Is Losing Its Best and Brightest and Not Just Because of Trump by Matt Castelli
A Letter to President-Elect Biden on Restoring Relations with the Intelligence Community by Marc Polymeropoulos and John Sipher
A Blueprint for the Future: The CIA in 2021 and Beyond by Marc Polymeropoulos and Kristin Wood
Needed: A Whistleblower Protection Paradigm Shift by Patrick G. Eddington
Good Governance Paper No. 4: Oversight of the Intelligence Community by Katrina Mulligan
Good Governance Paper No. 11: Strengthening Inspectors General by Danielle Brian and Liz Hempowicz
Good Governance Paper No. 22: Preventing Politicization of the Security Clearance System by Dakota S. Rudesill and Rolf Mowatt-Larssen