Thursday, March 3, 2005

President Bush yesterday sought to reassure CIA employees that they will retain an “incredibly vital” role in national security, a day after new Director Porter J. Goss said his job had “a huge amount of ambiguity in it.”

The recently approved reorganization of U.S. intelligence, which creates a director of national intelligence (DNI) who will coordinate all data and report directly to the president, has led to confusion in the Langley headquarters of the nation’s spy agency.

“Obviously, one of the reasons I came here is because I know there’s some uncertainty about what this reform means to the people of the CIA,” Mr. Bush said after meeting with Mr. Goss and delivering a morale-boosting speech to employees at Langley.

“And I wanted to assure them that the reforms will strengthen their efforts and make it easier for them to do their job, not harder,” he told reporters during a two-hour visit.

The visit followed a rare public appearance by Mr. Goss. In an hourlong address at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Wednesday, he said he is being overwhelmed by the many duties of his job, which includes devoting five hours every day to prepare for and deliver intelligence briefings to the president in the Oval Office.

“The jobs I’m being asked to do, the five hats that I wear, are too much for this mortal,” Mr. Goss said. “I’m a little amazed at the workload.” CIA staffers said the director was being lighthearted about the situation and had been misinterpreted.

Still, Mr. Goss expressed confusion about the role of John D. Negroponte, who is the first to be nominated to hold the newly created position of DNI. Mr. Negroponte, a career diplomat who is leaving his post as ambassador to Iraq, will take over several as-yet-undetermined duties currently assigned to the director of central intelligence, including the presidential daily briefing.

“It’s got a huge amount of ambiguity in it,” Mr. Goss said. “I don’t know by law what my direct relationship is with John Negroponte,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld or other top officials involved with intelligence, Mr. Goss said.

Mr. Bush yesterday sought to clear up any confusion, saying he had come to Langley “to explain that the reforms that we’ll be implementing through the good graces of Ambassador Negroponte, if confirmed by the Senate, will actually help the CIA do its job better.”

But he said that although reforms have been approved by Congress, they have not yet begun.

“We don’t even have Ambassador Negroponte confirmed yet. In other words, it’s hard to implement reforms without somebody to be the reformer. And so the process is ongoing. Obviously, when his name gets up to the Senate, we hope there’s a speedy confirmation,” he said.

Mr. Bush, who said he did not “want there to be any interruption of intelligence coming to the White House, and there won’t be,” offered his own vision of what Mr. Negroponte’s duties will entail.

“The job of Ambassador Negroponte is … to take the information and make sure it is coordinated in its distribution to not only the White House, but to key players in my administration. And so I’m confident that the process will work.”

CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise said change will come when the DNI takes office. “Once you have Negroponte in place, a lot of those ambiguities will fade away,” she said.

Although White House aides and CIA staffers said Mr. Bush’s visit had been planned before Mr. Goss’ remarks, the tour was added to the president’s public schedule late Wednesday.

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