When Ambassador John Negroponte returns from Iraq next month to seek confirmation as the nation’s new intelligence chief, he will find Congress already threatening to tinker with last year’s intelligence-reform act — the law that established his office.
Although Mr. Negroponte’s supporters insist he has a strong mandate from the president, other observers see the legislative tinkering as a sign that the ambiguous language that resulted from months of wrangling over the law has left the new intelligence chief’s authority unclear in several key respects.
And even the most ardent advocates of the new post acknowledge that much turns on how the incumbent finds his relationships with other Cabinet officials developing.
The law provides “sufficiently clear and strong authorities [for the new post] … provided he has the support of the president,” one of the bill’s architects, September 11 commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton said.
“If the president backs him, he’ll succeed. If he doesn’t, he won’t,” added Mr. Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, who believes that new legislation would be superfluous.
Nonetheless, one bill — drafted by a bipartisan group of senators on the Armed Services Committee — is already under consideration, and others are thought to be in the works.
The Military Reorganization Act, introduced last week by Sens. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, and Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, would create a single point of contact for the new intelligence chief within the eight sprawling and prolific intelligence agencies inside the U.S. military.
The bill would create a supporting intelligence command, called INTCOM, headed by a four-star general, which would command all the military’s intelligence assets, parceling them out in response to requests from the new intelligence director and from other combatant commands in the military.
“INTCOM will bridge an important gap between the [new director] and the array of military-intelligence entities,” said Mr. Nelson.
A Senate staffer who helped draft the bill said the command also would receive requests from combatant commands for intelligence “packages” — combinations of assets that they would be allocated control over, in the same way that they currently receive support they request from the military’s transportation command.
“This four-star is there to juggle the requirements of the [new director] and the combatant commanders,” the staffer said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “It’s his job to see that everyone gets what they want.”
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, chairman of the intelligence committee, is reserved about whether legislative changes are necessary for Mr. Negroponte to succeed.
“This wasn’t the best possible bill,” he said recently, “but it was the best bill possible.”