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The Nation | NEWS ANALYSIS

Spy Czar, Rumsfeld in a Turf War

May 06, 2006|Doyle McManus and Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — After a little more than a year in his newly created job, John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, has won an initial battle to establish authority over the vast U.S. intelligence community -- Porter J. Goss, who resisted Negroponte's moves to limit the autonomy of the CIA, is gone.

But Negroponte faces a larger and much more difficult challenge: a struggle with Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's Department of Defense, which runs more than 80% of the nation's intelligence budget and is busy expanding its role even further.

Negroponte's job is to coordinate the work of 16 intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the giant National Security Agency -- which eavesdrops on international communications -- as well as the Energy Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The post was created in 2005 in response to charges -- made most tellingly by the commission that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- that the federal government's intelligence effort was uncoordinated and needed central direction.

When Negroponte took office in April 2005, the veteran diplomat moved quickly to exert his authority over the CIA. He took over the job of giving President Bush his daily intelligence briefing, a task that once allowed CIA directors to bond with the presidents they served. He took a central role in briefing Congress on intelligence issues. He transferred some CIA officers to new joint intelligence centers. And when it appeared that Goss was not fully on board, officials said, Negroponte and his deputy, Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, quietly complained to the White House -- apparently contributing to Goss' decision to resign Friday.

But Negroponte, who once worked as an aide to former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, has been much more cautious in confronting the Pentagon, officials and members of Congress have said. (Kissinger once complained that Rumsfeld was the toughest bureaucratic warrior he had ever met.)

When Negroponte has sought to push through changes at the Defense Department, "they told him to take a flying leap," said one U.S. intelligence official who said he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. "If you get the shove from DOD, where else can you go?"

The Pentagon has said it is cooperating with Negroponte. But even before the intelligence director's job was created, Rumsfeld made it clear that he thought its power should be limited, and he lobbied successfully in Congress to curtail much of Negroponte's clout over personnel and budgets.

Rumsfeld explained at the time that he did not want to weaken the Pentagon's ability to deliver tactical military intelligence to soldiers in the field by involving a new authority outside the military.

"We would not want to place new barriers or filters between the military combatant commanders and [Defense intelligence] agencies when they perform as combat support agencies," Rumsfeld said in congressional testimony at the time.

But in recent months, the Pentagon has asserted its authority to expand its own intelligence operations far beyond tactical support for soldiers. The move has drawn criticism from some members of Congress, who say they worry about an effort to create parallel intelligence-gathering capabilities -- including reportedly setting up covert special operations teams to spy in foreign countries.

The Pentagon is in the middle of a wide-reaching restructuring of its own intelligence-gathering and analysis abilities, run by Stephen A. Cambone, a close Rumsfeld aide who is the department's intelligence chief, and his deputy, Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin. Some critics have warned that the effort is turning into a bid for even more control over national intelligence assets.

"They started from an advantageous position because, even 10 years ago, they had about 85% of the intelligence budget," said Steven Aftergood, a civilian analyst who tracks intelligence issues for the Federation of American Scientists. "But with the onset of war in Iraq, intel support for military operations has only increased, and the Pentagon has been increasingly assertive about its role as an intelligence-gatherer and analyst."

Last month, Rumsfeld gave the green light to a new Defense Joint Intelligence Operations Center, which officials have described as an effort to centralize all military intelligence to better serve commanders in the field.

In a briefing to reporters, Boykin said military officials were in talks with the CIA to allow the new center to win access to the agency's raw intelligence, a move he characterized as an effort to get analysts in combat zones all the information they might need about potential threats.

"We want access to databases from other agencies, where appropriate," Boykin said.

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