INTELLIGENCE: Negroponte’s Challenges

April 25, 2005

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What are the main challenges facing new Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte?

He must manage the sprawling U.S. intelligence bureaucracy, oversee the nation’s counterterrorism strategy, replace the CIA director as the president’s primary adviser on intelligence, and--with the Secretary of Homeland Defense and the head of the FBI--take responsibility for preventing another large-scale terror attack on U.S. soil. At the same time, he has to work with the president and Congress to better define the scope of his authority, which critics say was inadequately spelled out in the reform legislation that created the director of national intelligence (DNI) post.

President Bush named Negroponte DNI on February 17. Negroponte, 65, has served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq since June 2004, experience the president called an "incalculable advantage for an intelligence chief." He was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2001 to 2004, and also served as ambassador to Honduras (1981-85), Mexico (1989-93), the Philippines (1993-96), and as deputy national security adviser (1987-89).

The legislation that created the DNI job implemented many of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission charged with investigating the 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington. The DNI will, according to the White House, "conduct strategic operational planning for counterterrorism activities, integrating all instruments of national power, including diplomatic, financial, military, intelligence, homeland security, and law enforcement activities within and among agencies." He will also control the budgets of the nation’s 15 intelligence agencies, reportedly about $40 billion, and coordinate operations and assign roles in them to the CIA, FBI, or Pentagon. Those agencies can raise objections to the assignments with the National Security Council.

The final report of the Presidential Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, released March 31, outlines the challenges Negroponte will face in his new position. Because of ambiguities in the legislation creating the post, the full extent of the DNI’s responsibilities and powers is unclear, the report says. As a result, the DNI will need the president’s strong backing to help him build consensus for reforms and bring the intelligence community into line. "The DNI cannot make this work unless he takes his legal authorities over budget, programs, personnel, and priorities to the limit," the report says. The commission, headed by former Virginia Governor and U.S. Senator Charles S. Robb and Laurence H. Silberman, a federal appeals judge, also recommends that the DNI focus on managing and setting long-term goals for the intelligence community, not on preparing and delivering the daily intelligence briefing to the president--a process that takes many hours and limits work on other tasks.

Some lawmakers say the ambiguities in the DNI’s job description may actually help the DNI do his work. "I think the fact that all of the lines aren’t crossed and every decision isn’t made about what powers the DNI has is an advantage for the DNI, because a vacuum invites power," Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, said just prior to Bush’s introduction of Negroponte. "I think it is much more important that the DNI be able to come in? [and] fill that out according to his own instincts," he said.

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