Robert Novak

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.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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