ASPEN, Colo. — The United States will take over the top NATO intelligence post at the end of the year, alliance officials said, a move that some US officials hope could bolster a critical alliance capacity that President Trump has praised.
But the appointment runs the risk of putting a US stamp on an office whose strength has been in building consensus among North Atlantic Treaty Organization members over controversial intelligence matters. Within the alliance, misgivings about US intelligence still run deep, more than a decade and a half after doubts over the US assessment about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq bitterly divided Europe and America.
David Cattler, a veteran of the Defense Intelligence Agency who now has a senior position with the director of national intelligence, has been appointed by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to take over the intelligence post, Oana Lungescu, the chief NATO spokeswoman, confirmed.
The appointment is expected to be announced shortly.
The intelligence chief post was created in 2016 to better coordinate intelligence about Russia and terrorism threats within the civilian and military staffs of NATO. Trump, a presidential candidate at the time, seized upon the move as evidence that the alliance was responding to his criticisms, one of the few times during the campaign that he complimented it.
Stoltenberg has often highlighted the creation of the intelligence post, and in an interview he said that the consensus that NATO intelligence has helped forge among member nations has been vital for the alliance.
“Common understanding and a common picture of the situation is a precondition for common action,” Stoltenberg said.
It is difficult to act on a piece of intelligence if it comes from just one country, alliance officials said. The NATO intelligence chief has solicited information from multiple countries and helped build the common picture that Stoltenberg said was critical in forging a single voice for the alliance.
“Joint intelligence, the sharing of intelligence has helped us to have this unity on these important issues,” he said.
The alliance has used its intelligence arm during internal debates over the handling of Russian violations of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the nerve agent attack in Britain last year against a former Russian intelligence officer, Stoltenberg said. Having intelligence analyses from multiple countries, he said, set the stage for NATO action.
After the nerve agent attack, NATO and its member nations expelled dozens of Russians from embassies across the alliance, a blow to Moscow’s intelligence network in Europe and the United States.
And after the demise of the arms treaty, allies agreed to “deliver credible deterrence” and will announce more concrete measures to bolster their defenses after the end of the treaty next month, Stoltenberg said Wednesday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. NATO has begun examining whether to expand its missile defense system to counter Russian intermediate missiles.
Some current and former alliance officials say they believe having a non-American at the head of the intelligence arm has helped NATO’s intelligence analysis supplement the US collection and not simply seem to be a rubber stamp.
But the United States provides the bulk of the alliance intelligence. And some US officials remain reluctant to share some of their most important and sensitive intelligence in a multilateral setting.
As a senior US official, Cattler will be cleared to see much of the United States’ most sensitive intelligence. While he cannot decide on his own to share that with the alliance, he will be able to request that US agencies share their intelligence — and argue why they should reveal their secrets to the secretary-general or the alliance as a whole.
“With an American leading the NATO intelligence division, the alliance will have more access to the world’s most capable intelligence network,” said Douglas Lute, the former US ambassador to NATO in the Obama administration.