Monday, February 28, 2005

Betting on Negroponte

What kind of bets these days are being given on Negroponte's chances of success as Director of National Intelligence? There seem to be at least a couple of opinions. For one, Jason Vest reports that intelligence veterans see "disaster on the horizon," because the DNI is "charged with completing myriad missions in an incredibly short time with woefully inadequate staff."

But Dana Priest appears to be somewhat more sanguine, noting in Sunday's Washington Post that the new DNI's role entails a historic weakening of the CIA:

Now, Negroponte will oversee the CIA and 14 other agencies that spend an estimated $40 billion a year on intelligence -- a reorganization by Congress largely in response to recommendations by the 9/11 commission, which said lack of coordination among those offices played a role in the U.S. failure to thwart the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Not only will Negroponte replace the CIA director as the most important voice the president hears on intelligence matters each day, but other agencies, notably the Pentagon and the FBI, are seeking to take over some of the CIA's traditional case officer duties. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has tasked the military to send highly classified units into the field to collect human intelligence, using newly earned congressional authority to recruit foreign agents when it is helpful.

The FBI wants to replace the CIA's role in recruiting U.S.-based foreign officials to spy for the United States when they return to their homes. It is also trying to mimic the CIA's use of corporate contacts to gain information from overseas business travelers.

With the President's Daily Briefing soon to be in Negroponte's hands, intelligence officials said they expect dozens of CIA analysts who produce it to move over to his office. So will the National Intelligence Council, the nation's top intelligence advisory panel, which produces National Intelligence Estimates as well as analysis of long-term trends.

The CIA's science and technology branch may lose clout as well, intelligence experts said. Already the major technological capabilities -- namely satellite imagery and electronic espionage -- reside outside the CIA. Experts say Negroponte's deputy-to-be, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, wants to keep a major hand in technological issues. Currently, Hayden heads the National Security Agency, which manages electronic espionage.

Critics of the CIA's inability to gather more intelligence on al Qaeda -- and of its high-profile, high-stakes failure to accurately assess Iraq's weapons programs before the war -- say these changes are long overdue.

On the other hand, Priest also notes that intelligence reform might actually end up being more efficacious for the CIA:
In a recent executive order, Bush told Goss to increase the number of U.S. spies by 50 percent over a period of years.... Advocates of the reorganization say the new version of the CIA will be able to focus on its core mission. Gathering human intelligence "is simply going to be front and center," said Jamie S. Gorelick, a member of the 9/11 commission, which recommended the legislation. "They were trying to do too many things and weren't doing them well."
This makes it sound like the overall reorganization of the intelligence apparatus, although in for a challenging period of implementation, may actually enable the CIA to be the CIA.

Vest also notes there's a legislatively-mandated limit of 500 staffers for the new Director, but Priest mentioned in an online discussion at the Post a week ago that the number could go as high as 1400. Given the potentially (and I stress that word) rational division of responsibilities between the DNI and the agencies it supervises, 500 or 1400 doesn't strike me as awfully insignificant.

Before the CIA's critics sing "glory, hallelujah," however, for the demise of that favorite punching bag of the left, Priest leaves us with an important caveat:
Some intelligence experts worry that the reorganization will leave the CIA dangerously isolated from the heartbeat of U.S. policymaking. "You won't get the cross-fertilization, the healthy interaction between the collectors and the analyzers that you need to do intelligence work well," said Fred Hitz, a former CIA inspector general. "When you isolate yourself, you become detached from the policy issues," a former head of the clandestine service said. "You don't let the air in. The smaller the group that approves a covert action, the greater the propensity for failure."

However this shakes out, and no matter how he got there, Negroponte may well not be the weak DNI that some have suggested. Meanwhile, the dangers associated with covert operations --run out of the military or the CIA -- may well have increased.

UPDATE: In the comments section here, Max asks: "what are the implications of putting such an obvious apparatchik in this position?"

I give a lot of weight to veteran DC reporter Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service, who had this to say a few weeks ago:

WASHINGTON, Feb 17 (IPS) - In choosing Ambassador John Negroponte as the country's first National Director of Intelligence (NDI), U.S. President George W. Bush has opted for a hawkish, tough, ruthless realist who could very well clash with more ideological forces in the administration.

...Negroponte's controversial tenure in Honduras has to date failed to derail what is widely regarded as one of the most impressive careers in the foreign service of the last generation. After Honduras, Negroponte served as ambassador to Mexico, the Philippines, the United Nations, and, since coming out of retirement last July, in Iraq, winning praise in each locale for shrewdness, discretion, and effectiveness.

As important, perhaps, in the present context is his association with the "realist" faction within the administration. A long-time friend of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, for whom he served as deputy national security adviser under Ronald Reagan, Negroponte is generally considered to be a pragmatist -- albeit one with a hawkish reputation that dates to his work as a young diplomat in Vietnam in the 1960s and later as an aide to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

As ambassador in Baghdad, he oversaw the effective transfer of U.S. policy in Iraq from the Pentagon to the State Department.

With Powell's departure, an ongoing purge by CIA director Porter Goss of the top operational and analytical ranks of the agency, and the pro-democracy, missionary -- not to say messianic -- rhetoric of Bush's Inaugural and State of the Union addresses, many analysts have concluded that the more-ideological wing of the administration, concentrated in the civilian leadership at the Pentagon and in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, have a clear field in Bush's second term.

But that conclusion may yet prove premature. Despite her adoption of Bush's rhetorical style, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made a series of appointments -- specifically Trade Representative Robert Zoellick to be her deputy and NATO Amb. Nicholas Burns to the number three post at State -- that suggest Foggy Bottom will remain a realist stronghold in the second term.

Moreover, the fact that Bush was inclined to choose a realist as his DNI -- before Negroponte, he had asked his father's first choice for CIA director, Robert Gates, to take the job -- adds to the notion that he remains open to advice from people who may not necessarily share the worldview of aggressive unilateralists like Cheney and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, neo-conservatives, and the Christian Right.

That assessment is further reinforced by Bush's choice to serve as deputy DNI, Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, who currently heads the National Security Agency (NSA) and is also regarded as pragmatic and close to the leadership of the uniformed military, another realist, if hawkish, bastion.

...Negroponte, unlike some senior officials around Bush, is considered much less likely to shade the intelligence according to what he believes the president wants to hear.

Since he resigned his position under Kissinger to protest what he considered to be his boss's betrayal of South Vietnamese leaders during the Paris peace negotiations in the early 1970s, he has gained a reputation for supreme self-confidence and speaking his mind in private, even if he hews to the official line in public.


Anonymous said...

Maybe being "away from policymaking" will be good for the CIA, if you know what I mean.


Anonymous said...

maybe he'll end up on top, maybe he won't. but either way, what are the implications of putting such an obvious apparatchik in this position? -- max

David said...

If you read the Vest story, it seems like Negroponte was the Administration's choice number eight. Will he politicize intelligence? seems to me to be the most important question, and I don't have a clue.

But the idea that Negroponte is somehow dirtier than others (and it's not clear if that's your point) who might also qualify for the job is erroneous. It's not like they could even consider putting Jimmy Carter in the job. If critics of the Negroponte nomination come up with any alternative, I have yet to hear about it.