Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell steps down on Tuesday, leaving behind a long list of accomplishments in his short and historic tenure.
In a period of just three months, he streamlined and reformed the intelligence community (IC), saving $19 million.
He also declassified a trove of intelligence documents that House Democrats had refused to release, which cast doubt on their Russian collusion narrative. In addition, he declassified a list of Obama administration officials who requested the unmasking of Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Michael Flynn. And he declassified transcripts of Flynn’s call with a Russian ambassador for the future potential release by incoming Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe.
He took steps to protect against future abuses by the IC and law enforcement, and made strides by appointing a female to lead the IC’s top counterterrorism agency and launching initiatives to protect LGBT members of the IC.
His accomplishments came despite strident opposition from Democrats, and he sent scathing letters and tweets in response. He blasted House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) for leaking to media and overstepping his oversight role.
“Going forward, I encourage you to think of the relationship between your committee and the IC as that between the legislative and executive branches of government, rather than that between a hedge fund and a distressed asset, as your letter suggests,” Grenell wrote Schiff in April.
On Monday, Grenell also took down Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). He wrote:
I find it puzzling that your letter initially complains about the declassification of the identities of unmaskers, a declassification that posed no conceivable risks to sources or methods, only to then request the declassification of actual intelligence reports. Cherry picking certain documents for release, while attacking the release of others that don’t fit your political narrative is part of the problem the American people have with Washington DC politicians.
— Tom Bevan (@TomBevanRCP) May 26, 2020
Streamlining and Reforming the Intelligence Community
Grenell instituted a hiring freeze on his first day for all but critical positions, eliminated 200 contractor positions that made up 15 percent of the total contracting pool, and eliminated 100 positions that had not been filled for more than 18 months.
He reduced the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) staff by 15 percent by implementing a shared services model with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), and eliminated ten government and contractor positions within the National Security Partnerships (NSP) directorate.
He consolidated multiple cyber-related offices into a single, unified U.S. Cyber Executive, reducing staff by at least five positions.
His streamlining achieved $19 million in total estimated savings.
Grenell also finalized and released the National Intelligence Estimate on the future of 1515 through 2021 and established the Economic and Financial Security Executive — a position responsible for coordinating and leading economic security and financial intelligence-related efforts across the IC.
He also formed a working group with foreign partners to increase intelligence sharing on Hezbollah.
Declassifying and Debunking Russia Collusion Hoax
Grenell completed the IC’s review of 53 transcripts — totaling over 6,000 pages — from the House Intelligence Committee investigation into alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 election and made the transcripts available to the public.
He declassified more than three dozen previously-redacted footnotes from the Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report into IC failures during the Russia collusion investigation.
He declassified a list of former Obama administration and government officials who requested the unmasking of intelligence reports containing Flynn’s name.
He also declassified the former National Security Adviser Susan Rice’s email to herself on January 20, 2017, about an Oval Office meeting on Flynn on January 5, 2017.
Grenell also declassified the Flynn-Kislyak transcripts in possession of the ODNI for potential public release by Ratcliffe.
Implemented Protections Against Future Abuse
Grenell has also implemented protections against future abuses by the intelligence community and law enforcement.
He directed the IC to change the way it protects the identities of U.S. citizens contained within intelligence reporting. He has changed the election security briefings process so that the ODNI, not the FBI, leads all future efforts to brief the presidential campaigns on information derived from national intelligence.
He also created a Compartmentation Task Force to synchronize efforts across the IC to protect the nation’s most sensitive intelligence, sources, and methods. And he appointed ODNI’s second in command principal executive, a career intelligence professional with over 35 years of experience, and hired a career government technology professional to serve as the IC’s chief information officer.
Advancing LGBT Rights and Other Firsts
As the first openly gay cabinet member, Grenell established an IC-wide working group to support the U.S. government policy for the decriminalization of homosexuality in the 69 countries where being LGBT is a punishable offense.
He convened national security and counterintelligence experts to examine the process by which LGBT applicants obtain a security clearance without jeopardizing the often delicate relationships with family, friends, and coworkers.
He also appointed the first female to lead the NCTC.