Miller gets solid marks from former colleagues, but the move has increased fears within the intelligence community that the administration has embarked on a politically motivated campaign against career professionals.
The move came hours after I reported that Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, had begun a “review” of the NCTC and was weighing staff cuts there and in other parts of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Congress created both in 2003 as part of its effort to coordinate intelligence activities after the failure to “connect the dots” that allowed the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Miller, if confirmed, would take over from Russell Travers, who has been acting director since the departure of Joseph Maguire last August to become acting DNI. Travers, a widely respected career intelligence officer, was told that he could remain as Miller’s deputy, according to a Senate source who had been briefed by the ODNI leadership.
The timing of the proposed change was surprising, since it came as President Trump and most of the country were focused on the coronavirus threat that has preoccupied the world. But Grenell and the new team overseeing intelligence apparently couldn’t wait. An intelligence source told me that Miller received a call about 10 p.m. Tuesday from the White House, asking if he would take the job.
Travers didn’t learn about the move until Wednesday morning, when he was briefed by an aide, the intelligence source said. Despite Travers’s long record of service, Grenell apparently didn’t notify him personally in advance that the White House had selected someone else for the top job. This treatment of a career officer will grate among his colleagues.
The move will add to concerns within the U.S. intelligence community, and among its partners abroad, that Trump is continuing a purge of what he views as disloyal subordinates at the ODNI, FBI and other spy agencies. This housecleaning began last July with the departure of DNI Daniel Coats; that was followed by the resignation in August of his deputy, Sue Gordon, after she was passed over for the top job. Then came the ouster last month of Maguire and his senior deputy, Andrew Hallman.
“People in the intelligence community are very nervous because of the uncertainty,” said the intelligence source. The political churn is especially upsetting because it comes at a time when there are so many serious global economic and public health issues that require attention. It’s no time, in other words, for political vendettas.