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How the US intelligence chief is preparing his office for the threats of the future


The current threat landscape facing the U.S. is not only blurry, it is rapidly changing. In response, the nation's top intelligence chief is reshaping his office in order to keep up.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats announced a reshuffling of how the office will do business in the future in an effort to become more agile and efficient in its intelligence work during a townhall meeting with his staff on Wednesday. The changes are the result of a review process which Coats initiated when he took over last year.

"Our transformation will position us to drive the [Intelligence] Community on the most critical issues, to streamline and focus the agency in order to reinvest in priority areas, and to create a more effective ODNI [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] that delivers impact and value with every action," Coats told the staffers.

The changes focus on four critical functions of the ODNI: integrating intelligence from the various agencies the director oversees, enabling national security partnerships with the public and private sectors, driving resources where they are needed, and developing new strategies to counter future threats. The idea is to increase agility by allowing lower levels of bureaucracy to make more decisions, according to Politico.

Coats made clear from the start that he was going to prioritize a review of his agency.

"I believe every government agency must constantly review its operations, and I'll be taking a look at not only the ODNI but the entire IC [Intelligence Community] and to learn how we can do things more efficiently and effectively," Coats told the Senate during his confirmation hearing last year.

The ODNI and the position of Director of National Intelligence are relatively new incarnations, which resulted from the major overhaul of the intelligence community after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Reviews of the intelligence community post 9/11 found that the various U.S. intelligence agencies were failing to properly share information with one another and collaborate on important issues. It is the ODNI's job to ensure that the nation's 16 intelligence agencies (17 if you include the office itself) work in sync in order to prevent the "stove-piping" of intelligence.

Coats' changes come at another crucial turning point for U.S. national security, as modern threats become increasingly difficult to pinpoint. Russia's use of proxies in both its election hacking efforts and the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine are prime examples of situations in which an adversary can agitate without being too obvious. The intelligence community often refers to this factor as "plausible deniability," the ability to deny direct involvement. As the digital battlefield continues to grow in importance, Coats wants intelligence officials to be able to respond quickly to technological advances utilized by adversaries.

"We think our new structure will help us become more agile and quicker as an organization, because we don't see militaries lining up tanks to attack us anymore," Coats told Politico.

Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon echoed Coats during the townhall.

"We've never been as good as we are now, but we have to be better," said Gordon.

Coats' announcement initiated a 100-day transition period, which will serve as the first step in the transformation. It will occur during a major leadership change at the Central Intelligence Agency, as current Director Mike Pompeo prepares to take over as Secretary of State. Deputy Director Gina Haspel will take charge, though both will need to be confirmed by the Senate.

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