Institutional reform can be drawn up on a chart with nice little boxes, but it means nothing unless leaders and institutions back the change.
Research Fellow John C. Fortier
The commission highlighted the lack of information-sharing across our 16 intelligence entities. Its big recommendation was the creation of a director of national intelligence (DNI) and a counterterrorism center to stand above and shape personnel and budgets in the intelligence entities housed in various departments and bring together and analyze disparate intelligence gleaned from various sources. By definition, these changes downgraded the status of the CIA director, who not only ran the most significant intelligence agency but was also supposed to coordinate other intelligence efforts and brief the president.
Congress enacted those recommendations (although not the needed changes to its own committee structure), but many worried that the reforms would amount to nothing if the DNI was not backed by the president and that the director, John Negroponte, was too diplomatic to break down the entrenched agency cultures.
But slowly the changes are becoming ensconced. Negroponte beefed up his office’s personnel and analytical capabilities and took over the duties of briefing President Bush. And now Negroponte’s deputy, Gen. Michael Hayden, has been nominated to become the new head of the CIA. Negroponte is flexing his muscles, and this means we will get a serious chance to see if intelligence reform, as drawn up on the blackboard, will work in practice.
President Bush had three good reasons for choosing Hayden. First, the choice backs Negroponte. Second, Hayden is an eminently qualified and experienced intelligence hand. Third, the White House has indicated that it welcomes criticism over the National Security Agency (NSA) wiretapping program, which Hayden presided over.
The White House expected criticism from Democrats over the wiretapping but was surprised by criticism of Hayden from a number of prominent Republicans. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and several others have criticized the choice. First, they argue that because the defense intelligence agencies are so powerful, a military person should not lead the civilian CIA. Second, they argue that John Negroponte is getting too powerful and the office of the DNI too bloated.
The first criticism is legitimate, at least in theory. There is a real question as to how the defense intelligence entities will interact with the rest of the intelligence community, but everything in Hayden’s background indicates that he will not be a lapdog for Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld. And while Congress should exercise substantial oversight over the DNI, the larger concern is that Negroponte has the tools and the backing he needs to operate in this new intelligence structure.
Besides the two stated criticisms, two other behind-the-scenes factors have angered some Republicans. First, the White House did not consult Hoekstra on its choice of Hayden. Second, many House members are rightly worried about the denigration of the reputation of Porter Goss.
Goss served for many years in the House with distinction and grace. He worked across the aisle, was the face of intelligence issues and took the CIA director job when he wanted to retire and before the position was diminished.
Congress is right to honor Porter Goss, as it did this week with a Congressional Service Award, but it should also let the director of national intelligence continue to grow in stature. We are likely to be safer for it.
John C. Fortier is a research fellow at AEI.