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Does John Ratcliffe Have Enough Expertise To Be Director Of National Intelligence?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're joined now by Jeremy Bash, who was chief of staff at the CIA during the Obama administration.

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JEREMY BASH: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about the role of the DNI. The president gets intelligence information from a lot of different senior-level people in the government. How important is the director of national intelligence specifically?

BASH: The director of national intelligence is the most important intelligence professional. That individual sits atop 16 intelligence agencies, including CIA, including NSA. When there is a morning intelligence briefing, it's the job of the DNI or the DNI's assignee to actually present that information. And at every national security meeting in the Situation Room or the Oval Office, every decision that's taken begins usually with a briefing by the DNI. The DNI sets the table with the intelligence so that policy can be developed with a common set of facts.

SHAPIRO: The president has relentlessly attacked the intelligence community for years, disparaging their work, disparaging their leadership. How do you think this appointment or this nomination fits in with that long history of attacks on this community?

BASH: Well, I've talked to some intelligence professionals, current and former, over the last 24 hours since this news broke, and I would say they are very worried. And morale is pretty low at the director of national intelligence offices.

But more fundamentally across the community, you see people who are concerned. They say look; the president isn't interested in hearing intelligence. He stands next to Putin and takes the word of the former KGB spymaster over our own CIA. He, remember, began his presidency by standing in front of the CIA Memorial Wall, which is hallowed ground for intelligence professionals, and the president talked about himself and how many times he was on the cover of Time Magazine.

And he's denigrated the FBI and said they spied on me and tapped my wires and all those kinds of things. So I think there's a lot of concern throughout intelligence ranks about what the leadership will do.

SHAPIRO: If the president is uninterested in intelligence briefings, if the president disparages the intelligence community and doesn't listen to their recommendations, what difference does it make who's in charge?

BASH: Oh, I think it matters a lot because we rely on the director of national intelligence to be the face and the voice of the community as a whole, not just to the president, but also to the Congress and to the public. And so you really want to have somebody who's got strong integrity, who's going to perform the job in an objective, impartial way and let the chips fall where they may.

Sometimes intelligence assessments are at odds with the political and policy direction of a president. And it's very important for a DNI, director of national intelligence, to speak that truth to power.

SHAPIRO: But, I mean, if the director of national intelligence tells the president you need to take a right here and the president is going to take a left, why does it matter whether the DNI said turn right or turn left?

BASH: Because the DNI can then describe the consequences of those wrong turns. And it's important to describe the consequences so that our policymakers - our secretary of defense, our secretary of state and our congressional leaders - can actually adequately prepare for, resource, fund and design policies to deal with potential wrong turns.

SHAPIRO: So when you look at what the intelligence community is working on today, whether that's Russia or North Korea, give us an example of how a political ally in this role might do something different from somebody who's more independent.

BASH: Well, Director Coats, to his credit, gave public testimony in which he said that North Korea may never give up their nuclear weapons. That's of course at odds with what the president has said. Dan Coats has said that Iran is complying with the Iran nuclear deal. That's at odds with the way the president has described Iran's behavior. Dan Coats has said that ISIS still exists. That's at odds with the president's public descriptions and assessments.

And of course, most importantly, Dan Coats has said that Russia did interfere in the 2016 election to benefit Donald Trump and that they will do so again, and that is very much at odds with the way the president has described their, quote, unquote, "Russian hoax."

So it's important that a director of national intelligence be truthful, be objective, be strong. And having a political ally in that job is a huge problem and very demoralizing for our intelligence professionals.

SHAPIRO: That is Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff to the CIA. He's now with Beacon Global Strategies.

Thanks for joining us.

BASH: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.