New Intelligence Director Receives Mixed Reviews

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New intelligence director Michael McConnell i

Michael McConnell took over the 16 U.S. spy agencies in February. Jim Watson, AFP hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Watson, AFP
New intelligence director Michael McConnell

Michael McConnell took over the 16 U.S. spy agencies in February.

Jim Watson, AFP

Next week marks a milestone in the campaign to overhaul U.S. spy agencies. Wednesday will be the last day of the 100-day plan launched by new national intelligence director Michael McConnell.

In April, McConnell laid out an ambitious program to address the problems that continue to plague intelligence efforts, despite a host of reforms.

His plan included efforts to recruit more native speakers in languages such as Arabic. McConnell also announced plans to reduce the processing time for a security clearance and to improve cooperation among the 16 U.S. spy agencies.

Overhauling Intelligence

Since he unveiled his reform roadmap several months ago, there have been tangible signs of progress.

Last month, McConnell decided to scrap the controversial, multi-billion-dollar spy satellite program known as "Misty." Lawmakers had criticized it as hugely expensive and wasteful and argued the money would be better spent on human intelligence.

McConnell has also reorganized his senior staff, and this week President Bush announced plans to nominate intelligence veteran Donald Kerr to come on board as McConnell's top deputy.

Mixed Reviews

The intelligence shake-up has impressed some lawmakers.

"I think he has set the right priorities — improving security clearances, increasing information sharing, improving collaboration," says House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes. "These are all hard issues, and having him address those early on, I think at least gives me a sense of movement in the right direction."

Jay Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, tells NPR he's also a big fan.

"I trust him. He's smart, he's shrewd, he's efficient. And he reaches out to the Congress in a way that nobody else has," Rockefeller says.

Not everyone, however, is singing praises for the new intelligence director.

One Congressional staffer, who isn't authorized to speak on the record, questions the rate of progress so far under McConnell.

"Things are changing too slowly," the staffer says. "It strikes some of us as amazing that six years after 9/11, there's still this struggle, for example, to train people in the right languages."

Peter Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House intelligence committee, gives McConnell a passing grade on his performance so far, but noted that he has yet to present any detailed recommendations to Congress.

"We've not seen a plan that would dramatically change the way that the community does business," Hoekstra says. "And I think in each of those areas - whether it's language capabilities, whether it's bringing in people who understand and are sensitive to the various cultures and societies that we are dealing with - we haven't seen the proposals that would encapsulate the kind of dramatic change we need."

But McConnell acknowledges the need for dramatic change, which is precisely why he came up with the 100-day plan, he says.

"There's a sense of urgency here. So the hundred days was to have a very robust dialogue among the members of my team here and the rest of the community, to say, 'Well, what is it we need to do, over whatever period of time.'"

McConnell says he plans to follow up his 100-day plan with a 500-day plan.

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