Broad duties test spy chiefs

Worries mount over loose reins in driving agencies

October 16, 2005|By SIOBHAN GORMAN | SIOBHAN GORMAN,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- Some of the same coordination problems that troubled U.S. intelligence agencies before Sept. 11 and in the lead-up to the Iraq war may be emerging under America's new spy chief, intelligence professionals warn.

The concern is that the new intelligence director is not paying enough attention to the pressing need to pull together the 15 autonomous intelligence agencies. As a result, several current and former intelligence officials said, no one is in charge of the agencies, even after last week's announcement of a National Clandestine Service.

Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the No. 2 official in the national intelligence director's office, acknowledged in an interview that he and his boss, John D. Negroponte, have "had a reasonably light hand" in managing the agencies. Hayden said his office was now ready to play a richer role in driving the 15 agencies in a unified direction.

But the intelligence office does not have much time left to prove critics wrong, said retired Adm. William O. Studeman, a former National Security Agency director who served on the presidential commission investigating intelligence failures in Iraq.

"They'll have about six months to a year honeymoon period to get their act together," he said. "Everybody wants to see them move with more speed."

The problem is not so much a lack of focus but that Negroponte, the first director of national intelligence, was given a broad job description and relatively weak powers to direct other agencies, said former senior CIA official Mark Lowenthal.

Negroponte's decision last week to replace the CIA's current espionage operation with a National Clandestine Service -- still headed by the CIA -- to manage all government spy efforts was "a ratification of the status quo," Lowenthal said. He said it would have been news had the CIA been denied that responsibility.

`Very difficult'

The president's appointment of Negroponte, a former ambassador to Iraq, and Hayden, who headed the NSA until earlier this year, was praised by intelligence experts. Negroponte, a career diplomat, brought policy experience, and Hayden knew the inner workings of intelligence collection.

Hired in April, Negroponte was given a Herculean job description: Be the president's chief intelligence adviser and manage all 15 intelligence agencies. The CIA director had previously filled the first role, but no one had tried the second.

Negroponte chose to concentrate on his role as the president's chief adviser and was successful in doing that, Lowenthal said, but it came at the cost of managing the intelligence agencies.

Those two roles are not necessarily incompatible, say intelligence professionals, but they require different skills -- analytical and managerial -- and both are time-consuming.

"This is about being given a very difficult job," Lowenthal said.

In creating Negroponte's job, Congress left vague whether the new intelligence director or the head of the CIA should advise the president. President Bush asked Negroponte to play that role.

"In some ... ironic way, they have basically replicated the problem that [former CIA director] George Tenet and [his deputy] John McLaughlin had," said Lowenthal, now president of the Intelligence & Security Academy, a national-security consulting firm.

Lowenthal used to tease McLaughlin that he was going to rent out McLaughlin's office because he seemed to spend more time in White House meetings than at CIA headquarters.

Management focus

Richard Falkenrath, a former White House homeland security aide, questioned whether the advisory role was "the best use of their time" because it was another layer between the president and intelligence analysts.

He said Negroponte and Hayden should capitalize on the chance to take hold of the intelligence agencies, because they have a "very weak" CIA director, a "somewhat weakened" secretary of defense and support from the president -- before their window of opportunity closes.

Hayden said he and Negroponte focused on the advisory role first because it could be accomplished with a small staff. Yet, he said, they would be measured largely on their management of the intelligence agencies.

Over six months, Hayden said, he and Negroponte have assembled a functioning staff; they have established their advisory role; and they are engaged in managing the agencies.

To advise the president, Negroponte draws on the intelligence of all the agencies.

Negroponte and Hayden are also producing a national intelligence strategy. The strategy so far focuses on emerging threats such as terrorism; security issues posed by countries such as China and North Korea; and nuclear proliferation, according to one person who has read it.

Negroponte's strategy is focused on "the right things," said one former top intelligence official who has read the proposal, but it's unclear whether the new director will be able to "herd all the cats" to follow through.

Scope of authority

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