Trouble with intel

Robert Novak
|
Posted: May 11, 2006 12:05 AM

WASHINGTON -- The surprise sacking and replacement of Porter Goss as CIA director obscured dissatisfaction with the official behind the change. Ambassador John Negroponte, the first director of national intelligence (DNI), in effect determined that Goss had to go. His replacement by Negroponte's deputy, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, may mean further "militarization" of U.S. intelligence and a return to business as usual at a CIA plagued by catastrophic intelligence failures.

When Negroponte wanted Goss out, the former Republican congressman did not resist ending his short, unhappy tenure at Langley. While getting no help from Negroponte in cleaning up a dysfunctional CIA that seemed aligned against the incumbent president, Goss had found himself losing control over both analysis and operations in the agency. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, an experienced bureaucratic infighter, was expanding the Pentagon's creeping intelligence activities.

That was not what the Bush administration and Congress appeared to have in mind when creating a new intelligence system headed by the DNI in reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was supposed to have restrained the Defense Department under the strong guiding hand of one official. But sacking Goss will not achieve that goal. In the view of members of Congress who oversee intelligence, John Negroponte is the problem.

His telephone is answered "Ambassador Negroponte," and congressional overseers refer to him as "The Ambassador." He is an elegant, silky smooth diplomat, first seen at the side of Henry Kissinger as a 30-year-old Foreign Service Officer. In an illustrious public career, Negroponte was viewed as the State Department's coming superstar. The first serious criticism I heard of him came after his recent assignments as U.S. envoy in Iraq and the United Nations, where critics said he was a shade too smooth in avoiding conflict.

That is precisely the complaint made by congressional overseers, who at this point do not want to be identified, of his performance as DNI. They contend that he has been interested mostly in avoiding criticism, not really addressing the shortcomings in the intelligence community.

That assignment fell to Goss, who was given a daunting task when he took over at the CIA in the autumn of 2004. Coming aboard in the midst of a presidential campaign, he confronted an agency where criticism of George W. Bush and support for John Kerry were rampant. Sen. John McCain urged Goss to clean house, and he tried. But he found an entrenched bureaucracy mobilized against him, as CIA staffers savaged him in leaks to friendly journalists. Goss was not helped by bringing along his House Intelligence Committee staffers, who had received poor grades on Capitol Hill.

Goss faced a disintegrating CIA. The major analytic functions were passed to the DNI. Special operations were going over to the Pentagon. Negroponte was no help to Goss. Although bizarre reasons for Goss's resignation have been floated on the Internet, sources say Negroponte simply suggested his time was up.

Congressional discontent with Gen. Hayden to head the CIA stems partly from unhappiness by House members over the way their old comrade was booted out. But beyond that are historical reasons for unhappiness with an Air Force general in charge at Langley. Career officers have not fared well as CIA directors, hitting a low point with Vice Adm. William Raborn Jr. in 1965-66.

An expert in communications intelligence as director of the National Security Agency, Hayden does not seem suited to correct the CIA's deficiencies in human intelligence. He is expected to salute and follow orders as Negroponte's deputy and a military man. With CIA careerist Stephen R. Kappes returning as deputy CIA director, the days of shaking up the agency seem ended.

I asked Sen. McCain whether Goss had succeeded in stopping the CIA from being a "rogue agency." He said he did not know but wanted to make sure the return of Kappes, forced out by Goss in November 2004, "does not mean a return to business as usual." The White House would not welcome an airing of these issues, but McCain wants public hearings on the Hayden and Kappes nominations to disclose what is really happening.