President-elect Donald Trump, a harsh critic of US intelligence agencies, has selected former Indiana Sen. Daniel Coats, 73, to lead the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). The office of «intelligence czar» was established in 2004 in large part to enhance coordination between intelligence agencies following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. The nomination will have to pass Senate confirmation.
«Coats would be an excellent choice», Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, told reporters. «Because Dan’s got the experience, he’s got the leadership skills having been an ambassador and I think his time on the committee has served him to understand what that role entails».
Daniel Coats has served 24 years in Congress, including the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees. As a Senator in 2013, he defended the NSA after former contractor Edward Snowden revealed it was secretly collecting Americans' phone records en masse. Coats attacked Edward Snowden’s NSA disclosures in a June 2013 Wall Street Journal op-ed, calling bulk NSA surveillance «legal, constitutional and used only under the strict oversight of all three branches of the government». Coats voted against a 2015 bill, the USA Freedom Act that constrained the mass surveillance.
The nominee has diplomatic service record. He served as US Ambassador to Germany from 2001 to 2005. Then he made personal acquaintance with current Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel.
Coats is married to Marsha Coats, Indiana’s female representative to the Republican National Committee. During the 2016 presidential campaign, she endorsed Trump. The nominee is affiliated with the Fellowship – a US-based religious and political organization. It is believed to be one of the most politically well-connected ministries in the United States.
The organization shuns publicity and its members share a vow of secrecy. Its participants include ranking United States government officials, corporate executives, heads of religious and humanitarian aid organizations, ambassadors and high-ranking politicians from across the world. Many US senators and congressmen have publicly acknowledged working with it or worked together to pass or influence legislation.
Coats is a traditional conservative. He opposes same-sex marriages and supports a ban on openly gay members of the military.
The nominee has always been a harsh critic of Moscow. He was an ardent supporter of sanctions introduced by the Obama administration over Crimea. Coats was among several lawmakers banned from traveling to Russia. «I’m not a big fan of Putin», he said in a November 2015 Senate floor speech. «I’m not a big fan of Russia». Back then, Coats expressed openness to partnering with Russia against Islamic State. «As we’ve learned in 1941, national emergencies can create strange bedfellows», Coats said. The anti-Moscow stance makes him be seen as someone who could provide a counterweight to the president-elect's alleged «soft spot» for Moscow.
It has been reported that Mr. Trump is eyeing an overhaul of the ODNI widely believed to become bloated and politicized. The reported reform plans also include the CIA, cutting back on staffing at its headquarters and assigning more people to field posts.
Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer has denied the reports but it’s logical to surmise that with Mr. Trump in office, the US intelligence community is in for changes.
The failures leading up to the 9/11 tragedy are well known and there is little reason to believe the changes introduced since then have significantly improved things. Terrorist attacks continue. The US spy agencies still have not been able to provide solid evidence to support its claim Russia was behind the anti-Clinton hacking campaign.
When it comes to the intelligence community, there is a widespread skepticism. House Speaker Rand Paul and Vice President-elect Mike Pence also express some skepticism over the intelligence assessments. According to Senator Rand Paul, James Clapper directly lied to Congress when he told lawmakers in 2013 that the government wasn't collecting data on millions of Americans. He believes this fact lessens the credibility of intelligence agencies.
The decision to nominate Mr. Coats shows how wrong were those who said Donald Trump was leaning toward Moscow while treating disparagingly his own intelligence community. The only thing the president-elect emphasized was that there was ground to doubt the efficiency and impartiality of US intelligence in its present form.
After all the community is still led by James Clapper – the man who lied to its own lawmakers under oath! He was not even made resign! If so, was there any reason to take for granted whatever the intelligence reports say about Russia, be it hacking, foreign policy goals or anything regarding the US relationship with that country?
Russian politicians are sober-minded enough to realize the people nominated by Donald Trump are not Moscow’s «friends». They don’t have to be. The most effective partnerships are often with the most unlikely bedfellows. They are better than fake friends. Judging by his words, Mr. Coats holds the same view. If the Islamic State is a common enemy, Russia and the US could be partners with different motivations wanting the same success.
What matters is the ability to evaluate things with a sober and impartial eye instead of ascribing evil intentions without providing any proof. If the president-elect introduces needed reforms and assigns responsibilities to the right people, everyone will gain, including those who want the Russia-US relations to improve at last.