The next president must press the intelligence community to modernize to meet the threat of China and keep politics out of the spy agencies, conservative leaders say in an extensive new report laying out the framework for every federal agency.
“Mandate for Leadership 2025: The Conservative Promise,” the work of The Heritage Foundation and conservative allies, also calls for the next conservative president to empower the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as the the top intel agency in function as well as in law, and to stop overclassification of government information.
Although the report calls for reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it doesn’t call for ending the often-controversial law that allows for surveillance of communications between Americans and foreigners, which drew national attention when Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was the subject of FBI applications for warrants to spy on Trump associates.
The entire 920-page report includes a section devoted to the intelligence community written by Dustin Carmack, formerly a research fellow for cybersecurity, intelligence and emerging technologies at The Heritage Foundation, the parent organization of The Daily Signal.
Heritage helped launch the 2025 Presidential Transition Project (also known as Project 2025) to equip a potential conservative president to govern effectively from Day One. For this effort, the leading think tank assembled a coalition of conservative leaders and former political appointees of the federal government.
With regards to politicized intelligence agencies, Project 2025 notes the discredited claims that Donald Trump conspired with the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign, suppression by the media and Big Tech of the Hunter Biden laptop story and related revelations in 2020, and then-National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s “failure to answer honestly in response to congressional questions about government surveillance programs.” Clapper served during the Obama administration.
The Project 2025 report says the director of national intelligence and the CIA director both “should use their authority under the National Security Act of 1947 to expedite the clearance of personnel to meet mission needs and remove IC [intelligence community] employees who have abused their positions of trust.”
It goes on to say: “The president should immediately revoke the security clearances of any former directors, deputy directors, or other senior intelligence officials who discuss their work in the press or on social media without prior clearance from the current director.”
While calling out personnel in the intelligence community for getting political, the report also warns against political meddling in the work of intelligence agencies. It says:
Political leaders should avoid ‘manipulation-by-appointment,’ a practice by which intelligence leaders are selected for their policy views or political loyalties instead of their skilled expertise. Presidents should also avoid public rebukes and pressure from the intelligence profession, which can include intimidation and bullying, to shape IC [intelligence community] analysis. This will be easier if IC leaders live by the norms of neutrality and thus are not seen as political actors, for whom political responses are deemed necessary.
The intelligence community mishandled threats from China, the Project 2025 notes, saying the CIA downplayed concerns by experts with the National Intelligence Council about Beijing’s plan to exert influence over the 2020 presidential election.
A 2021 report from an analytics ombudsman said that CIA analysts and leaders made it “difficult to have a healthy analytic conversation in a confrontational environment” and that the CIA exercised “undue influence on intelligence.”
Heritage’s Project 2025 says:
To help the United States and its leaders to outcompete China across multifaceted societal, economic, military, and technological threats, the IC’s capability to conduct strategic intelligence analysis that is relevant to policymakers in both parties must be rebuilt and strengthened. Because Beijing may be a peer or even exceed U.S. capabilities in some areas, the post-9/11 analytic focus on quick-turnaround secrets is not good enough. Strategic planning—informed by intelligence—must take place for the United States to stay ahead of whatever new threats China may pose.
Project 2025 also notes that the United States “was caught flat-footed by the recent discovery of China’s successful test of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile.”
And personnel in the intelligence community now must rise to the challenge, the report says:
The IC [intelligence community] must do more than understand these advancements: It must rally nongovernment and allied partners and inspire unified action to counter them. In addition, to combat China’s economic espionage, authorities and loopholes in the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) will have to be examined and addressed in conjunction with the [U.S.] attorney general.
The report calls for reforms to FISA, but still calls it an essential tool.
“A future president should understand the importance of FISA while also seeking reforms and accountability for any abuses of its authorities,” it says.
The report acknowledges the abuse by the Justice Department in getting a FISA warrant against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
“An incoming conservative president should consider reforms designed to prevent future partisan abuses of national security authority,” the report said, calling for stiffer penalties and mandatory investigations when intelligence leaks are aimed at domestic political targets, tighter controls on otherwise lawful intercepts that also collect the communications of domestic political figures, and a prohibition on politically motivated use of intelligence authorities.
The report says there is a “broad consensus across the U.S. government” that agencies often “mistakenly choose classification as the default selection to ensure national security.”
“An incoming administration needs to explore options to prioritize funding for innovation in declassification management: for example, by establishing a budget line item specifically for the modernization of declassification or designating funding for program classification management as a special-interest item,” the report says, adding:
The administration will also need to transition to using technology, including tools and services for managing Big Data (which provide a robust electronic record repository, making information within and across agencies easier to organize and locate and facilitating more rapid review and release capabilities for records of emerging interest); artificial intelligence/machine learning (which, when incorporated into existing business practices, enables machine interpretation of unstructured text and data, applies decision support technology to enable more consistent classification decisions, and expedites reviews between agencies); and expansion of Commercial Cloud services (which facilitate the rapid testing and deployment of new tools and technologies).
The report also discusses the need to rein in the bureaucracy and stop turf wars. It notes that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was established in 2004 as a post-9/11 measure to supervise and coordinate the 18 federal intelligence agencies.
However, that hasn’t worked out as planned for the intelligence community, the reports says:
Historically, the CIA has undercut the DNI [director of national intelligence] and maintains primacy in the IC hierarchy, especially regarding the White House. An incoming conservative president can right the ship and return the IC governance model to first principles by using a limited but empowered leadership and coordination design to serve the nation’s intelligence and national security needs while reclaiming the public trust with fiscal responsibility, political neutrality, personnel accountability, technological prowess, and necessary human capital needed to counter the immense nation-state and asymmetrical threats facing our country.
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