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Intelligence Director Says His Office Is Making Progress

Negroponte sums up the first year of his oversight and reveals that the 16 spy agencies he coordinates employ about 100,000.

April 21, 2006|Stephen J. Hedges | Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON — National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte, brushing aside criticism that his office could become just another layer of government bureaucracy, said Thursday that he had made significant progress in coordinating the work of the nation's intelligence agencies.

Marking his first year in an office created to calm turf battles among the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other agencies, Negroponte said the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had focused primarily on improving intelligence analysis, particularly with regard to terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.

"The watchword, really, of our national intelligence strategy is 'integration,' " Negroponte said in a luncheon speech at the National Press Club.

He said that in its first year, his office and the intelligence community "helped protect Americans."

"Next year we will work to do the same, all the while striving to make our country safer day by day," he said. "That's the rationale for our larger intelligence community."

Negroponte revealed for the first time the number of Americans working in intelligence in this country and abroad: "The United States intelligence community comprises almost 100,000 patriotic, talented and hardworking Americans in 16 federal departments and agencies," he said.

Although no terrorist attacks have occurred in the U.S. since the Sept. 11 hijackings, some critics have alleged that the conflict in Iraq has shifted the intelligence community's focus away from Al Qaeda activities elsewhere in the world.

But Negroponte said the National Counterterrorism Center, created in the same piece of legislation that established his office, and his office's new National Counterproliferation Center were proving valuable, especially regarding information from senior Al Qaeda leaders in custody.

"I can't overstate the importance of that information in the prosecution of the war on terror," he said.

Still, Negroponte suggested that the U.S. government was no closer to apprehending Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, although he said Bin Laden's ability to operate had been significantly reduced.

"He's in hiding somewhere, we believe in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area, and I don't believe is nearly as operationally active as he previously was," Negroponte said.

He declined to discuss specific criticism of his office or the agencies that report to him.

A House Intelligence Committee report this month, for example, said the national intelligence office could become "another layer of large, unintended and unnecessary bureaucracy."

"I don't think we have a lot to show yet for the intelligence reform," Mark Lowenthal, a former top CIA official and congressional intelligence staffer, told the New York Times.

"What's their vision for running the intelligence community? My sense is there's a huge hunger for leadership that's not being met."

Negroponte on Thursday acknowledged intelligence failures that prevented detection of the Sept. 11 plot and resulted in the flawed prewar conclusion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

"We can't afford to repeat the mistakes that led to the WMD fiasco with respect to Iraq," said Negroponte, who served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq for nine months.

"So we have spent a lot of time working on what you might call the 'lessons learned' issues from that experience -- source validation, double-checking our information, testing intelligence against various hypotheses."

Asked about the revelation that the National Security Agency was eavesdropping on the international communications of people in the U.S. with suspected terrorists, Negroponte criticized those who had revealed the program's existence.

"Any public disclosure of intelligence-related information is going to hurt us in one way or another," he said.

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