Six Weeks In, Top Spy Struggles To Find a Deputy
Saturday, April 7, 2007
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has been unable to find a deputy acceptable to the White House during his first six weeks in office.
Several candidates approached by McConnell either turned down the job or were rejected by the White House, according to current and former administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to discuss the matter.
The position of deputy director of national intelligence has been vacant since May, when Gen. Michael V. Hayden left to become the director of the CIA. Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr., who was appointed to replace Hayden, had to vacate the post in January because regulations limit how long a person can hold the position without Senate confirmation.
While the matter lingers on, McConnell said this week, he has been working 18-hour days "at least six days a week" to handle the crush of work.
McConnell's spokesman, Chad Kolton, yesterday would say only that "the search is still underway" and that it is "a collaborative process with the White House." Inside the White House, Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council, would not comment on the open job, describing it as a personnel matter.
In February, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, McConnell said that he "will push as hard as I can to find the right person to fill that spot, and I hope to do it as quickly as possible." The Associated Press reported Thursday that the search is ongoing.
A former administration official said one candidate the White House rejected was John O. Brennan, a former senior CIA official who helped established the National Counterterrorism Center in 2004 and served as its first interim director. Brennan, who is now president of the Analysis Corp. consulting firm, would not comment on whether he had been approached for the position.
McConnell also suggested someone currently in a senior intelligence position, and that person was not accepted by the White House, according to an administration official, who noted that at least one former senior official had turned down McConnell's appeal.
One deterrent for any outside candidate is the short time left in the Bush administration and the possibility that a new administration, even a Republican one, would want to make its own selection. When McConnell's predecessor approached him last year about taking the deputy post, McConnell himself declined it, opting to stay in the private sector. McConnell changed his mind only when offered the top job.
But one former top intelligence official said the next president could keep McConnell and his deputy on the job to avoid another major turnover of leadership within the intelligence community, which is still adjusting to the restructuring caused by the 2004 legislation that created the office of the director of national intelligence.
Meanwhile, McConnell is left with essentially two jobs: serving as Bush's chief intelligence adviser and coordinating the 100,000-person intelligence community comprising 16 agencies.
On Wednesday, before an Excellence in Government conference, McConnell described starting work at 4 a.m. and sometimes not ending until 10 or 11 p.m. "at least six days a week." He said he has a "warm-up" for his White House briefing of President Bush at 6:30 a.m. followed by "rounds in the White House."
That includes not only his Oval Office session with the president but also national security meetings with principal officials from the State and Defense departments several times a week.
Kolton said McConnell often does not get a chance to begin his own meetings with DNI staff until after 10 a.m. and frequently has so many scheduled sessions that he is left with only one hour each workday that is not "blocked off."
McConnell told the conference: "My biggest early challenge is just stamina. . . . It was a little easier when I was a little younger, but that's what I am adjusting to."