Anniversaries are opportunities for reflecting on the year just past. For the U.S. intelligence community — and for the nation it serves — the retrospective occasioned by this week’s first anniversary of the installation of Ambassador John Negroponte as director of National Intelligence (DNI) is, in a word, grim.
Take, for example, the critical bipartisan assessment recently provided by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) under its chairman and ranking minority member, Reps. Pete Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, and Jane Harman, California Democrat, respectively. As the New York Times reported April 20:
“The fear expressed by the two lawmakers… is that Negroponte, the nation’s overseer of spy agencies, is creating just another blanket of bureaucracy, muffling rather than clarifying the dangers lurking in the world. In an April 6 report, the [HPSCI] warned that Negroponte’s office could end up not as a streamlined coordinator but as ‘another layer of large, unintended and unnecessary bureaucracy.’ The committee went so far as to withhold part of Negroponte’s budget request until he convinced members he had a workable plan.”
A no-less-scathing critique of the DNI’s performance to date has recently been provided by Richard Posner, a federal appeals court judge, University of Chicago law school professor and author of three books on intelligence issues. In an address earlier this month to the CIA legal staff, he noted the parallels between the dysfunctional Department of Homeland Security and the Directorate of National Intelligence:
“When a bureaucratic layer is added on top of a group of agencies, the result is delay and loss of information from the bottom up, delay and misunderstanding of commands from the top down, turf fights for the attention of the top layer (rival agencies have a single boss for whose favor they fight), demoralization of agencies that have been demoted by the insertion of a new layer of command between them and the president and underspecialization, since the new top echelon can’t be expected to be expert in all the diverse missions of the agencies below.”
Such concerns do not exactly come as a surprise. Last December — even as Jane Harman, among others, insisted the DNI position had to be created to correct intelligence deficiencies identified after the attacks of September 11, 2001 — this column served notice that:
“[The DNI-creating legislation’s] changes to U.S. intelligence will likely make matters worse, not better. It will create more bureaucracy and more ‘stove-piping,’ actions that are likely to produce more ‘groupthink’ and less timely and actionable intelligence. These are precisely the things the reformers say they want to avoid and that we can ill-afford during a time of war.”
If it were predictable the Directorate of National Intelligence would prove counterproductive, the full magnitude of the damage could not be fully contemplated until Ambassador Negroponte started making a number of abysmal personnel decisions in staffing his increasingly bloated organization. These included giving top positions to two individuals whose judgment and conduct was previously called into serious question: Thomas Fingar, deputy DNI for Analysis, and Kenneth Brill, director of the DNI’s new Counterproliferation Center.
During his prior assignment as assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, Mr. Fingar participated in the savage attacks John Bolton’s nomination as our ambassador to the United Nations. In the process, he displayed not only a poor grasp of the status of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction knowhow and technology, he also evinced a partisan hostility to President Bush’s policies.
Worse yet was the performance of Ken Brill as U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency. In that position, he routinely and insidiously tried to excuse North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear aspirations — and interfere with administration’s efforts to counter them.
Given this background, is it any wonder that Messrs. Negroponte, Fingar and Brill last week gave us the spectacle of absurdly declaring the Iranian regime to be years away from having nuclear weapons? Remember it took the U.S. less than four years to go from the invention to the use of atomic weapons during World War II. The Iranians have been at it for more than 15 years, with lots of help and technology from Russian, Chinese, Pakistani and North Korean experts.
It must also be asked: If government officials in sensitive positions who actively subvert the president’s policies are given promotions by the national intelligence director, should we be surprised that a partisan CIA officer like Mary McCarthy would feel untroubled leaking highly classified — and operationally and politically damaging — information to The Washington Post?
Mr. Negroponte and his team also created an environment in which one of the finest national security professionals, Michelle Van Cleave, felt unable to continue serving under the DNI as the president’s national counterintelligence executive. The Negroponte team does not understand this vital position and hamhandedly undermines its role.
As White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten continues reorganizing the administration, he could go a long way toward redressing the problems with the Directorate of National Intelligence — problems that have become too manifest to ignore — with a DNI personnel change of his own. He should make this entity’s first anniversary the occasion for replacing the incumbent director of national intelligence with someone who truly understands how to fix what ails the U.S intelligence community and wants to help the president accomplish that goal: Michelle Van Cleave.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times. He blogs at www.WarFooting.com.