Thursday, April 13, 2006

National intelligence office not doing much

Critics: National intelligence office not doing much
By John Diamond, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — A year after John Negroponte became the first director of national intelligence, key lawmakers worry that the spy agency they created is not fulfilling its vital mission.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is "not adding any value" by enlarging the bureaucracy, said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican who leads the House Intelligence Committee. "They're lengthening the time to make things happen. ... We want them to be lean and mean."

The agency does some tasks well, Hoekstra said in an interview Tuesday, but is only slowly improving the quality of intelligence. Negroponte was sworn into office last April 21.

Congress created the agency in December 2004 to streamline and centralize control over the nation's intelligence community. Last month, a bipartisan majority of Hoekstra's committee asked Congress to freeze part of the agency's budget until it answers lawmakers' concerns, including worries that new employees are being hired too quickly.

Once a bureaucracy takes root, Hoekstra said, "It's awfully hard to get rid of."

Gen. Michael Hayden, Negroponte's deputy, said the agency is within the limit set by Congress of 500 new positions. About 400 intelligence jobs from other agencies also have moved under Negroponte's control, Hayden said, along with about 400 staffers at new centers focused on issues such as nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

The agency's staff must have enough power to know what's happening in the intelligence community, Hayden said. "I'm confident we can do that (without) another layer of bureaucracy."

Rep. Jane Harman of California, the committee's ranking Democrat, said Negroponte should concentrate on improving the quality of intelligence, not on new hires and office space.

"He needs to focus on capability, not on buildings, billets (budgeted positions) and bureaucracy," Harman said. "What we're lacking is leadership, leadership and leadership."

Improvements are underway, said John Scott Redd, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Redd, who reports to Negroponte, told the House Armed Services Committee last week that his center has developed a list of 200,000 known terrorists in a highly classified database.

Hoekstra acknowledged that communication among agencies — a major flaw in pre-9/11 counterterrorism operations — has improved. He also said Negroponte has largely avoided turf wars with the Pentagon.

Other concerns surround the United States' $44 billion intelligence apparatus:

•Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters earlier this year the Bush administration was surprised by Hamas' victory in January's Palestinian elections. "Nobody saw it coming," she said. She did not single out any one U.S. intelligence agency. Harman called it "a stunning failure."

•After being briefed on the latest U.S. intelligence on Iran, Harman said she found the evidence on Iranian nuclear weapons programs unconvincing and "not where it needs to be."

•The Pentagon still dominates intelligence decision-making, despite Congress' intent to create more civilian control, said John Pike of, a Washington-based defense think tank. That's because the nation is at war and field commanders demand the most immediate intelligence. Also, the Pentagon has more people, money and power, Pike said.

Negroponte needs a large enough staff to have a hands-on role in controlling large Pentagon-funded agencies such as the National Security Agency and National Reconnaissance Office, Pike said. "You have no influence over a meeting that you didn't attend."

The new agency and Pentagon officers are "working side by side on a daily basis on intelligence issues," said Navy Cmdr. Gregory Hicks, a spokesman for Pentagon intelligence operations.

John Lehman, a member of the 9/11 Commission and Navy secretary under President Reagan, said Negroponte is a prisoner of a Bush administration tendency to address problems by creating large entities such as the Homeland Security Department. "This is really a big-government administration," Lehman said in an interview. "That's not any fault of Negroponte or Hayden."

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