On the job for just two weeks, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte is already asserting his authority: In a classified memo, he has directed CIA station chiefs around the world to represent him and to report directly to him on many intelligence matters.
“It has a lot of far-reaching implications,” says one former senior CIA official of the memo. “The implication is [that station chiefs] should be in charge of coordination for others who want to do clandestine activities overseas. The challenge will be whether others pay attention” to Negroponte’s directive. By “others,” the ex-official meant the FBI and the Pentagon, but he added that the Negroponte memo definitely signals that CIA Director Porter Goss lost significant clout when he lost his other title, “director of central intelligence.”
While members of Congress and the ever-growing intelligence commentariat wonder whether Negroponte will be able to bring the intelligence bureaucracy to heel in Washington, he’s already consolidating power in the field.
“They’re moving out very quickly to assert the DNI’s authority over a number of troublesome issues within the intelligence community,” said another CIA veteran. “Negroponte is saying, ‘The chief of station is my senior representation there, and thou shalt report to me through him.’ “
One intelligence community official characterized the Negroponte memo as a realignment of responsibilities now that the director of national intelligence has supplanted the director of central intelligence and is responsible for coordinating all 15 U.S. intelligence agencies. The official said that there’s been “no change in reporting channels or CIA authorities” when a chief of station is working on a CIA project.
Nevertheless, one former senior CIA official noted that Negroponte’s directive “does strip authority from the director of the CIA. There’s no doubt about that.” He added that the relationship between the DNI and the CIA director still has to be worked out internally. “It’s another one of those vague things that is not really explained in the [intelligence reform] legislation.”
Indeed, 16-year CIA veteran Ron Marks says Negroponte’s memo undermines the entire CIA. “The agency, as we know it, is gone,” Marks says. Its reduced status, he adds, “is not a good thing; it’s not a bad thing; it just is.”
Yet, other observers, including Michael Scheuer, who used to head the CIA’s “Bin Laden Unit” and is perhaps better known as the once anonymous author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror, worry that requiring station chiefs to serve two masters is a mistake. Scheuer predicts that the change will harm intelligence-sharing by creating yet another information channel between the field and Washington. “How can the head of a 15-component agency deal directly with station chiefs?” he asked. “It will create more confusion.”
Chiefs of station largely stand to gain status and perhaps influence from the change, even though the new arrangement’s implications for the station chiefs’ relations with military intelligence officials and with FBI attaches abroad remain murky. Although station chiefs won’t have control over their military and FBI counterparts, they will have “an edge,” as one former intelligence official puts it. It’s still unclear, though, who will referee turf clashes in the field.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is expected to release its organizational chart early this month. Since Negroponte was confirmed on April 21, he has handled the President’s Daily Brief and participated in “principals meetings” at the White House, said Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino. Meanwhile, the White House is one month into its three-month review of the recommendations from the Silberman-Robb commission, which investigated intelligence failures that preceded the war in Iraq.
Intelligence community alums report that Negroponte is also beginning to flesh out his initial policy priorities. Among them are increasing open-source intelligence-gathering and bolstering the community’s technology infrastructure. Both steps were strongly recommended in the Silberman-Robb commission’s report, which has become something of a playbook for Negroponte’s fledgling office.
Negroponte is considering establishing a directorate for open-source (or, publicly available) intelligence. One of the champions of open-source intelligence is David Shedd, who recently left the National Security Council to become Negroponte’s chief of staff.
The new DNI is also likely to push for more research and development of information technology, aimed at blending data systems throughout the intelligence community, and for more-innovative approaches to the collection of technical intelligence. “They feel they’re deficient” in those two areas, said a former member of the clandestine service. And Negroponte may have a personal interest on the technology front: His brother teaches media technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In the meantime, one CIA veteran noted, station chiefs around the world are probably collecting their own intelligence on Negroponte’s memo. “It does carry more than a subtle harbinger of the future,” the veteran said. “If I were a station chief, I’d probably be calling on the phone or back channels to find out what this means.”