On the other hand, the director of national intelligence has been a permanent member ever since the post was created in 2005, and before then, the director of central intelligence was a member. It makes no sense for the secretaries of state, defense, treasury, and other Cabinet heads to meet in the White House with the national security adviser (and sometimes with the president) to discuss and make policy without the nation’s top intelligence officer—the coordinator of the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies—being part of that discussion.
The backstory here is that Trump’s national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, has floated the idea of abolishing the DNI and having all the intel agencies report to him. It is pertinent to note that a few years ago the outgoing DNI, retired Lt. Gen. James Clapper, fired Flynn from his last job in government, as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency—a move that has since embittered Flynn against the DNI and against much of the intelligence community, which disagreed with him on a number of issues. The removal of the DNI from the Principals Committee suggests that Flynn’s broader plan may be in the works.
Another new and senseless feature of this executive order is putting the president’s political strategist onboard. Karl Rove never attended NSC meetings during George W. Bush’s presidency, as important an adviser as he was on all sorts of issues. David Axelrod sat in on some NSC meetings during Barack Obama’s tenure, though he always sat along the wall, along with a few other aides and deputies; he never sat at the table or said a word.As the president weighs national security matters, he can mingle his own political interests and instincts with the advice of Cabinet heads and the chiefs of the military and intelligence agencies; in fact, it’s his job to do just that. But the advice of this council should be rooted in U.S. national security interests; that’s why the group is called the National Security Council. Giving the president’s political strategist a seat at this table—elevating him to the same level as the secretaries of state and defense—is bound to inject a perspective that these meetings are expressly supposed to avoid. And given the inclinations of this particular strategist, Steve Bannon, the injections may sometimes be toxic.