Acting U.S. spy chief overhauls agency in defiance of congressional concerns


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Defying congressional oversight concerns, U.S. President Donald Trump’s acting director of national intelligence on Friday unveiled organizational changes to his agency.

FILE PHOTO: Richard Grenell U.S. Ambassador to Germany attends the “Rally for Equal Rights at the United Nations (Protesting Anti-Israeli Bias)” aside of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Richard Grenell, who is expected to be replaced in coming months by Trump’s full-time nominee, said the changes were the result of a lengthy review and would make more efficient use of funds and enhance intelligence support for the Pentagon.

Grenell, a Trump loyalist who also serves as U.S. ambassador to Germany, proceeded with the reorganization after rebuffing a request last month for details of changes he planned from the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff.

Schiff said it would be inappropriate for an acting overseer of the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies to make leadership, staffing or bureaucratic changes.

A Senate Intelligence Committee official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Republican chairman, Richard Burr, and his Democratic vice chairman, Mark Warner, called on Grenell in a March 19 letter not to proceed with organizational changes without consulting Congress.

The letter came after the acting head of the National Counter-Terrorism Center – which reports to Grenell – and his acting deputy were reported by media to have been fired. In March, Trump removed Grenell’s acting predecessor.

Both intelligence committees asked that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) consult them “before making any significant organizational changes,” said a House Intelligence panel official on condition of anonymity.

“That the current leadership at ODNI would choose to do so anyway, and at a time when the president has nominated a new director, demonstrates both a lack of confidence in the nominee and contempt for the oversight process.”

The ODNI, the Senate official said, also failed to send the panel the legally required formal notification of the changes before making them public. The committee, the official said, was given only informal advance notice by telephone from a ODNI official who acknowledged that the call “did not meet the statutory requirement.”

The ODNI said on Twitter that it “notified congressional oversight committees in advance of this announcement.” It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In his announcement, Grenell said that the Directorate of National Security Partnerships would be eliminated and its functions folded into other offices. The directorate “synchronizes and coordinates” civilian and defense intelligence activities, according to its website.

Another change, he said, will transition the military officer who heads that directorate to a new post of adviser to the DNI for military affairs.

The Senate panel this week held a confirmation hearing for Republican Representative John Ratcliffe, a loyalist Trump nominated to the position and who is expected to be confirmed by the Senate.

Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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