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Why Move Negroponte

John Negroponte
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Jan 09, 2007
On the surface, it makes no sense: Why move John Negroponte from his powerful position as being the very first coordinator of all 16 major U.S intelligence services to being only second string at the State Department? Negroponte has received high marks for his industry, intelligence and commitment as the first director of national intelligence in trying to tackle the Herculean task of coordinating the work of all the major agencies in the $35 billion to $40 billion U.S. intelligence community.

In an administration notorious for the lack of managerial skills and driving, effective leadership in getting federal agencies and departments to deliver what they promised or were funded to provide, he has stood out as an effective hard-charger.

Also, the announcement last week of Negroponte's transfer to the State Department to become Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's deputy follows the departure of his own number two at DNI, Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, a few months ago to head the Central Intelligence.

In these columns we welcomed Gen. Hayden's appointment as bringing the kind of serious intel/military management, leadership and administrative skills that the CIA so conspicuously lacked during the disastrous interregnum, of Hayden's predecessor, the hapless Porter Goss. We believe that assessment still remains valid.

However, the loss of such an effective Number Two at DNI, followed so quickly by the departure of Negroponte himself, leaves that office effectively decapitated, as concerned congressmen on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill are already noting. retired Vice Adm. J. Michael McConnell, the administration's choice to replace Negroponte, has been well liked and respected through his career and is an effective military manager and coordinator. He ran the National Security Agency under Presidents George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton. But he lacks the force of personality and the longstanding access to other powerful current administration officials that gave Negroponte his clout.

It therefore seems entirely possible that in the hands of McConnell the position of DNI, so conspicuously touted by the White House and the old Republican leadership in Congress in the years following the Sept.11, 2001, terror attacks, will lapse into effective powerlessness.

Far from becoming the "czar" of American intelligence, as the Bush administration and its allies in Congress originally envisaged, the DNI will now be relegated to the role of "clearing house" between a group of intelligence agencies more dominated by the Department of Defense and by military officials than ever before.

Negroponte through most of his tenure as DNI privately made no secret of his frustration that long-serving Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- the Pentagon controls 80 percent of the overall U.S. intelligence budget as well as direct control of about a dozen of the nation's intelligence agencies -- refused to work constructively with him and jealously retained operational as well as financial control over the DOD-controlled intelligence agencies, leaving the DNI out in the cold.

Things were expected to improve under Rumsfeld's successor, recently-appointed Defense Secretary Robert Gates who was a veteran CIA official himself and eventually served with discussion as the CIA's boss under President George Herbert Walker Bush, the current president's father. However, Negroponte's evident willingness to accept his transfer and apparent demotion suggests that he had come to the reluctant conclusion that frustration and powerlessness were inherently built into the position of DNI, whoever ran the show in the Pentagon

At first glance, Negroponte's new position appears to be a poor consolation prize for giving up the control, however indirect and incomplete, of America's myriad intelligence agencies. But there may be a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Historically, U.S. deputy secretaries of state have not been major policymakers but low profile administrators who handle the nuts and bolts of running Foggy Bottom and its network of embassies and consulates around the world. More powerful and effective deputy secretaries like Richard Armitage, who was the outstanding troubleshooter and super-envoy for Secretary of State Colin Powell in President Bush's first term, have been the exception rather than the rule.

At the very least, Negroponte can be expected to serve as a trouble-shooting, world-traveling "super deputy" like Armitage, rather than in the more common traditions of the job. But it may also be a stepping stone to greater things for him within a few months.

For if Secretary of State Rice seriously wants to make a run for the Republican presidential nomination next year, she would be expected to want to resign as early as the middle of this year in order to have time to do serious fund-raising before the Republican Party's primary and caucus cycle begins in earnest a year from now in January 2008.

As Robert Novak wrote recently in his syndicated column, GOP senior national leaders are already coalescing behind Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as their first choice to be the party's presidential nominee in 2008. But there appears little doubt that President Bush and his inner circle would vastly prefer the ever-loyal, cool and dependable "Condi" to get the nomination rather than the abrasive, outspoken McCain whom they still suspect of harboring bad blood towards the president over his defeat in the hard fought presidential nomination contest of seven years ago.

If Rice resigns to make a bid for the presidential nomination, Negroponte as her deputy would be her obvious successor.

It is also conceivable that if the Democrats now controlling Congress eventually try and aggressively link Vice President Dick Cheney to his old corporation Halliburton's lucrative and controversial contracts in Iraq, the White House might want to have plans in place to cover a resignation of Cheney to deflect controversy and to strengthen its national standing at the same time. Promoting Rice and Negroponte would fit into that scenario too.

The bottom line behind Negroponte's move to Foggy Bottom is that even he could not make the DNI the centralized power position running the U.S intelligence community that it was meant to be. And if even he couldn't do it, then probably no one can.

Source: United Press International

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