CIA said to have won turf war against intel chief

AP News
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Posted: Nov 12, 2009 7:31 PM

The CIA has won a turf battle over which government agency controls U.S. intelligence operations around the world.

CIA Director Leon Panetta and National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair squared off in May over Blair's effort to choose a personal representative at U.S. embassies to be his eyes and ears abroad, instead of relying on CIA station chiefs. Blair issued a directive in May declaring his intention to select his own representatives overseas. Panetta followed up shortly thereafter with a note telling agency employees that station chiefs were still in charge.

The dispute made it all the way to national security adviser Gen. James L. Jones, and then to Vice President Joe Biden.

An official in Blair's organization said the White House decided the matter this week in the CIA's favor. U.S. intelligence officials described the dispute on the condition of anonymity, noting the political sensitivities involved. For the national intelligence director's office, it was a high-profile loss to a subordinate agency that raised fresh questions about the strength of the 5-year-old parent office.

Blair's May directive was described by some government officials as an attempt to shore up both the office's authority and its ability to oversee foreign operations, which so far has been stronger on paper than in practice.

The national intelligence director's office was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to better coordinate intelligence gathering and make sure critical information isn't overlooked. But former and current CIA officials warned that the plan could do just the opposite _ set up competing chains of command inside U.S. embassies and potentially foul up intelligence operations. They also warned that it could complicate the delicate relationships between U.S. and foreign intelligence services and leave ambassadors confused about where to turn for intelligence advice.

From the national intelligence director's perspective, the proposal would have allowed Blair to tap the most relevant intelligence officer in an embassy or foreign country to serve as his eyes and ears.

In most cases that would be the CIA station chief. The station chief system has existed for 50 years, allowing the CIA to decide how to pursue and manage relationships with foreign intelligence and security services, and coordinate the work of other U.S. intelligence agencies and military forces.

The CIA warned that Blair's plan could lead to a split intelligence structure in the field that would end up with CIA station chiefs carrying out day-to-day spy operations while intelligence director representatives oversaw and reported back to Blair on the same operations. CIA veterans warned that it could complicate and slow missions that require rapid decisions.

Wendy Morigi, the spokeswoman for the national intelligence director, declined to comment directly on the matter of the personal representatives.

But she said "An agreement was reached on some broader issues that reinforced Blair's authorities." She did not provide details.