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    Front Page
     Feb 19, 2005
The Negroponte challenge
By B Raman

US President George W Bush announced on Thursday his nomination of John Negroponte, an officer of the US foreign service who is currently the US ambassador to Iraq, as the first US director of national intelligence (DNI). He is to assume the post after he is confirmed by the Senate.

Bush also nominated Lieutenant-General Michael Hayden, the director of the National Security Agency (NSA) of the Defense Department, to be the deputy DNI. By doing so, Bush has kept up the tradition generally followed in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under which if the chief is a civilian, his No 2 is from the armed forces and vice versa. The NSA is one of the principal agencies responsible for the collection of technical intelligence (TECHINT).

As recommended by the 9-11 National Commission, which submitted its report last year, Negroponte will oversee the functioning of all the national agencies of the US intelligence community. In the United States, a distinction is sought to between national intelligence agencies and departmental agencies. A national agency caters to the intelligence requirements of a number of departments, but a departmental agency in essence caters to the requirements of only one department. For example, the CIA, the NSA, etc are national agencies whereas the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the intelligence directorates of the army, the navy, the air force and the marines are departmental agencies. It is not clear what powers of supervision the DNI will have over the DIA and these intelligence directorates. The 9-11 Commission did not recommend bringing them under his control as well.

The 9-11 Commission's recommendation was that the DNI should bring about a multi-agency approach in respect of intelligence collection and dissemination and budgeting. The commission wanted him or her to have a pivotal role in the selection of the chiefs of all the agencies, in allotting operational responsibilities to different agencies, in preparing a single budget for the entire intelligence community, in getting it approved by Congress, in making the allocations out of the sum approved by Congress and in overseeing the performance of the agencies.

The commission's recommendations were due to two major deficiencies noticed by it in the functioning of the intelligence community. The first was there was no single individual in the intelligence community who had knowledge of all human intelligence (HUMINT) operations and was able to prevent wrong practices such as the overlapping of operations, different agencies running the same source, one agency recruiting a source discarded by another, etc. Even though the commission's report did not specifically cite this, the most glaring example was the case of Ahmad Chalabi, who was tried and discarded by the CIA as unreliable, but was recruited by the DIA. It is widely believed that it was he who gave to the DIA and Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, much of the wrong information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The second deficiency noticed by the commission related to the tendency of the intelligence agencies to avoid sharing with each other all the intelligence collected by them. They generally shared intelligence that in their view called for immediate action by others, but avoided sharing intelligence that did not seem to call for immediate action and needed to be further verified or inquired into. If they had shared immediately, they might have found that the additional details they were looking for were already available in the files of other agencies. The commission wanted that every agency should know what intelligence other agencies already had in their possession, whether immediately actionable or not.

The commission, therefore, proposed that the working principle of all intelligence agencies should be not only the need to know, as it was before, but also the need to share. It wanted that there should be one person in the US administration directly under the president who should be responsible for tasking the agencies, deciding on their individual operational responsibilities, approving all their major operations, keeping track of how they carried them out and ensuring that all intelligence collected was shared among the agencies of the community.

The commission also wanted the DNI to be given the additional responsibility of supervising the new National Counter-Terrorism Center, which would come directly under his control and would help him in exercising his responsibilities relating to the so-called war against terrorism.

While the commission thus wanted that the DNI should be the principal intelligence adviser to the president and should function as the intelligence overlord in respect of all senior appointments, tasking, operations and budgeting, it did not specifically say that it wanted him to be the analysis chief of the president. This gave rise to an inference that it wanted the responsibility for analyzing the intelligence collected and advising the president on what the intelligence implied to rest with the chiefs of the various agencies and that this should not be entrusted to the DNI. The commission members were apparently worried that if one person were made responsible for all analysis, differing points of view and perceptions might not reach the president, resulting in serious errors in decision-making.

The commission also wanted that in future the CIA should be responsible only for political covert actions and that all responsibility for paramilitary covert actions should be transferred to the Special Operations Command of the Pentagon. This has apparently already been done, as one could see from the active role Rumsfeld is now playing in the launching and coordination of paramilitary operations related to neutralizing Iran's military nuclear capability.

One does not know yet whether all the recommendations of the commission have been accepted or whether the DNI would have the same powers as envisaged by the commission. During the debate in Congress on the bill to give effect to the commission's recommendations, congressional members close to the Pentagon insisted that the creation of the post of the intelligence czar should not derogate from the powers now enjoyed by the defense secretary in respect of the collection and utilization of operational intelligence required for military operations.

While nominating Negroponte to this new post, Bush stated as follows:
  • The job will be a vital part of US counter-terrorism operations.
  • Negroponte understands the United States' global intelligence needs because he has spent the better part of his life in the nation's foreign service.
  • "If we are going to stop the terrorists before they strike, we have to ensure that the intelligence agencies work as a single unified enterprise."
  • Negroponte will take primary responsibility for delivering the president's daily intelligence briefing and will set budgets for the intelligence agencies.

    From the president's last observation it would seem that the DNI will also act as his analysis chief.

    It is too early to say how effectively the DNI will be able to coordinate the working of all the intelligence agencies and whether Rumsfeld and the Pentagon agencies will allow him to do so. Robert McNamara, the powerful defense secretary under president John Kennedy, who set up the DIA with the idea of using it to ensure the coordination of the four intelligence directorates of the army, the navy, the air force and the marines, found it very difficult to do so.

    In practice, there was so much resistance from different wings of the armed forces to shedding some of their powers in favor of the DIA that ultimately many of McNamara's ideas had to be watered down, if not abandoned. This was the difficulty McNamara faced when all the chiefs of his intelligence agencies, including the chief of the DIA, were from the armed forces and were hence birds of the same feather.

    Would Negroponte, a foreign-service officer, be able to succeed in coordinating the work of 15 intelligence agencies - one of them (the CIA) coming directly under the president, one (the Federal Bureau of Investigation) coming under the attorney general and the others coming under the defense secretary? It has been reported that since this is a newly created post, Bush wanted that the first incumbent should be an intelligence professional who knew the job of intelligence and whose words would carry weight in the intelligence community. All those approached reportedly declined, apparently because they were not confident they would be effective. Robert Gates, the former chief of the CIA under George H W Bush, the father of the current president, has publicly said that he declined to take up this post.

    In intelligence parlance, the word "operation" refers to the process of collecting and disseminating intelligence as well as covert actions. If Negroponte is confirmed to this post, will Rumsfeld willingly surrender to him supervision over all the covert actions mounted by the Pentagon agencies against Iran and those they might mount in the future against Syria? Will he or his agencies fully share with Negroponte, a foreign-service officer, knowledge of such covert actions? Very unlikely.

    Ultimately, Negroponte might end up supervising all operations for the collection and dissemination of intelligence with very little control over covert actions of a paramilitary nature, over which Rumsfeld would continue to be the czar.

    B Raman is additional secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, government of India, and currently director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and distinguished fellow and convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-mail: itschen36@gmail.com.

    (Copyright 2005 B Raman)

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    A failure of imagination
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