Thursday, April 20, 2006

John Negroponte, Director Of National Intelligence, Draws Bipartisan Criticism

The New York Times
In New Job, Spymaster Draws Bipartisan Criticism

WASHINGTON, April 19 — The top Republican and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee have disagreed publicly about many things, but on one issue they have recently come together. Both are disquieted by the first-year performance of John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence.

The fear expressed by the two lawmakers, Representatives Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, and Jane Harman, Democrat of California, is that Mr. Negroponte, the nation's overseer of spy agencies, is creating just another blanket of bureaucracy, muffling rather than clarifying the dangers lurking in the world.

In an April 6 report, the Intelligence Committee warned that Mr. Negroponte's office could end up not as a streamlined coordinator but as "another layer of large, unintended and unnecessary bureaucracy." The committee went so far as to withhold part of Mr. Negroponte's budget request until he convinced members he had a workable plan.

The creation of Mr. Negroponte's post was Congress's answer to the failure to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks and to the bungled prewar reports on Iraqi weapons. The overhaul, the most sweeping reorganization of intelligence in a half-century, was intended to establish a primary intelligence adviser to the president, to ensure that 16 turf-conscious agencies share information and to see that dissenting views are not squelched.

Intelligence officials say there has been progress in information-sharing, particularly at the National Counterterrorism Center, the new hub for reports on terrorist threats. Aides to Mr. Negroponte insist that analysts are encouraged to offer divergent views to avoid the "groupthink" blamed for past failures.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday night, Mr. Negroponte strongly defended his record.

"If there's one watchword for what we've been about, it's integration," he said, noting that all agencies are supposed to feed threat information to the counterterrorism center and participate in three daily video conferences.

"I don't see us as another bureaucratic layer at all," he said. "What's changed is that for the first time, there's a high-ranking official in charge of managing the intelligence community."

Mr. Negroponte said that between the intelligence reform law and the recommendations of a presidential commission on weapons intelligence, his office had been given "about 100 tasks to do," and added: "We've just gotten started. A year is not a long time."

But some current and former intelligence officials and members of Congress express disappointment with the progress Mr. Negroponte has made since being sworn in a year ago this week, faulting him as failing to provide forceful direction to the $44-billion-a-year archipelago of intelligence agencies.

"I don't think we have a lot to show yet for the intelligence reform," said Mark M. Lowenthal, a former top C.I.A. official and Congressional intelligence staff member. "What's their vision for running the intelligence community? My sense is there's a huge hunger for leadership that's not being met."

Mr. Lowenthal said he spoke regularly with intelligence officers about Mr. Negroponte's office, and heard little praise.

"At the agencies, officers are telling me, 'All we got is another layer,' " he said.

Ms. Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House committee, said the success of the Intelligence Reform Act, which created Mr. Negroponte's office and was passed in December 2004, would depend "50 percent on leadership."

"I'm not seeing the leadership," she said in an interview, adding that Mr. Negroponte, who had a long career as a diplomat, is now a "commander" and must act like one.

"The title is director, not ambassador," Ms. Harman said. "The skill sets are very different. The goal is not to grow a bureaucracy."

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who played a central role in devising the intelligence overhaul, said she was worried about what she said was Mr. Negroponte's failure to confront the Defense Department over an aggressive grab for turf over the past year.

"I remain concerned about the balance of power with the Pentagon," Ms. Collins said Wednesday.

In particular, she said she believed that Mr. Negroponte should have responded more assertively to a Pentagon directive last November that appeared to assert control over the National Security Agency, which does electronic eavesdropping; the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which takes satellite and aerial photos; and the National Reconnaissance Office, which launches and operates spy satellites. All are part of the Defense Department.

"While those agencies are hosted in the Pentagon, they report to the D.N.I.," Ms. Collins said. "I think the directive confused the relationship and weakened the D.N.I."

But Ms. Collins praised the National Counterterrorism Center and said it was far too early to pass judgment on Mr. Negroponte. "We need to give him some time and cut him some slack," she said.

Mr. Negroponte said the Defense Department had not cut into his power. "I flatly reject the notion that somehow control of civilian intelligence is being gobbled up by the Pentagon," he said, adding that "there's a clear division of labor" and that his office works closely with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his under secretary for intelligence, Stephen A. Cambone.

Even the most outspoken critics acknowledge that Mr. Negroponte's job is dauntingly complex, requiring that he brief President Bush each morning while overseeing disparate agencies and creating his own office from scratch.

At a session with reporters last week, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, Mr. Negroponte's principal deputy, said intelligence tradecraft "has benefited from the introspection the community has undergone over the last couple of years."

General Hayden, who was director of the N.S.A. for six years, said he "didn't understand" the criticism from Representatives Hoekstra and Harman about excessive bureaucracy, "because in the same press briefing they said we need to do more."

He and other officials said Mr. Negroponte's office had requested money for 1,539 positions, but two-thirds of them were inherited from offices that already existed. The law permits the agency to create up to 500 new jobs, and plans call for stopping at 450, General Hayden said.

But reports from the agencies, especially the C.I.A., suggest they do not yet feel liberated. Officers complain about constant demands for information from Mr. Negroponte's office.

Senator Collins said Mr. Negroponte was under enormous pressure.

"All of us in Congress who are appalled at the intelligence failure that preceded the invasion of Iraq want to make sure the intelligence we get on Iran, for instance, is much better," she said. "He can't afford to fail, because the threats are too dire and the consequences are too great."