Negroponte, Woolsey Advise Incoming DNI

James Clapper, a retired Air Force general, is President Obama's pick to be the next Director of National Intelligence. If appointed, Clapper will be the fourth DNI since the position was created. The first DNI, John Negroponte, and former CIA Director James Woolsey share what the next DNI should know.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

President Obama recently nominated Lieutenant General James Clapper to be the next director of national intelligence. During the tenure of Admiral Dennis Blair, U.S. intelligence failed to prevent the shootings at Fort Hood, the attempt to bring down an airliner on Christmas Day and the Times Square car bomb, but his resignation was reported to have more to do with disagreements over issues of responsibility and control - who, in short, was in charge of what.

Congress created the position of the director of national intelligence, or DNI, in 2004, following the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. In theory, the DNI coordinates the efforts of all U.S. intelligence services and acts as the principal intelligence advisor to the president.

The three men who have held the job previously often found themselves in turf fights and policy battles with the Pentagon, the CIA and the White House.

In a moment, advice for the new DNI from one of his predecessors and from a former director of central intelligence. If you've worked in intelligence, we'd like to hear from you, too. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website, at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the hour, "Google Baby" a new documentary that looks into the globalization of surrogate babies. But first, former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, the first to hold that position, joins us here in Studio 3A. Welcome.

Mr. JOHN NEGROPONTE (Former Director of National Intelligence): Thank you.

CONAN: And former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey, thanks very much for coming in.

Mr. R. JAMES WOOLSEY (Former Director of Central Intelligence): Good to be here.

CONAN: And John Negroponte, what advice would you have for the next DNI?

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Well, I'd be reluctant to be too forthcoming with advice, but I think stay close to the president. I think that's very important. This is a support function, and the president is not only the steward of our national security but also of our national diplomacy. So he's a person that needs his support.

The second is I would continue to work on the integration and horizontal movement of information across the community, information-sharing and real-time intelligence. That's what it's all about.

CONAN: And James Woolsey, what would you suggest?

Mr. WOOLSEY: Well, the problem that a director of national intelligence has is that he I think controls directly relatively little. He has authority to some extent over some aspects of budget, some aspects of personnel, but Congress didn't really give him the authority to run as a CEO would, let's say, the intelligence community.

The position I had as director of central intelligence in '93, '94, early '95, was a combination of the DNI function and the director of CIA function, called director of central intelligence, and that was where things were from the late '40s until 2004. And in that job, you were the chief executive officer of the CIA and kind of chairman of the board for the community.

Frankly, I think either of these systems would work with the right people. What we mainly see in Washington is after anything that doesn't go well, let's say, whether it's a terrible thing like 9/11 or a near escape like the Christmas bombing, near-bombing in Detroit, Congress reorganizes because reorganization is about the only thing you can talk about publicly, you can show you've done something, you can pass a bill. And so once you reorganize, it takes quite a while to sort through and get the relationships right and who is taking a lead and who's not taking a lead among the residual organizations.

And once that reorganization occurs and you start to sort through it, then something else may well come along and cause yet another reorganization.

So I think either of these systems can work with the right people. John did a great job as DNI. And one just has to do the best one can with the organizational structure that you're left with. What the bad idea would be to continually reorganize yet again.

CONAN: And John Negroponte, let me go back to you for clarification. In other words, when if the new DNI, if it's Lieutenant General Clapper, if he's confirmed, if he has a fundamental disagreement with Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA, he can't say Leon, I think you should hand in your resignation.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Yeah, well I...

CONAN: Or I think you should spend this money here and not there.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Yeah, first I agree with Jim that either system could be made to work, and I think that we can't turn the clock back now. But secondly, as far as disagreements are concerned, I worked very hard, and I think all of us who are in government try to work hard to make sure that we don't wash too much dirty laundry in public.

And I think a little bit of that happened in the most recent set of circumstances, and I think that was unfortunate. I think you need to try and work these things out.

I felt I was the overseer of the intelligence community, and I had the president's confidence. I think one of the ways I sought to that I succeed in engendering confidence in agencies sort of under my oversight was that I made it clear that I did not want to engage in any operational activities of my own.

I worked on plans, budget, coordination and this function that you mentioned, and that Jim mentioned, of being the principal intelligence advisor to the president.

So the job was really quite different than the job that Jim Woolsey had some 10 or 15 years earlier.

CONAN: Well, in that regard, when you were DCI, were you the one giving President Clinton the intelligence briefing every morning?

Mr. WOOLSEY: Well, when the little airplane crashed into the lawn of the White House in the fall of '94, I had been on the job nearly two years, and the White House staff's joke was that must be Woolsey still trying to get an appointment with the president.

President Clinton's a speed-reader, and he read the morning briefings. I don't think he met with my successors much more than he did with me, at least on a daily basis. And the time was such after all, we'd just won the Cold War.

A little over a year before we came into office, Yeltsin had disestablished the Soviet Union. It looked like Russia might be headed in a democratic direction. China was relatively quiet. The major overseas problems were problems of humanitarian concern: Are we going to try to prevent the in Rwanda, the genocide? Are we going to feed the Somalis?

And in those circumstances, stealing secrets isn't really at the front of your agenda as a nation because there's not a lot to steal from. And understanding those issues could've been done equally well by people who were not spies.

So we - you did need to steal secrets from Hezbollah and North Korea and Iran and so forth, and we worked very hard on that, but a lot of the international problems were humanitarian. Even as able a man, as great a patriot as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan would say, well, you know, the Cold War is over. Maybe we don't need the CIA or secrecy anymore.

You know, it was a frustrating time because the peace dividend was all, a lot of it coming out of our hide, and we had to spend a lot of time trying to hold on to some semblance of our budget in working with the Congress.

CONAN: John Negroponte, when you were DNI, were you responsible for briefing the president every day?

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Well, I attended the briefings. We had two CIA briefers. But I'd like to echo what is a point that I think Jim is making that's very important, and it goes back to what I originally said.

Every president has their own preference as to how this ought to be done, and our job in the intelligence community is to support that individual.

Ronald Reagan, when I was deputy national security advisor, he did not take briefings directly from the intelligence community. Colin Powell and I gave him his intelligence folder every morning, and he returned it to us in the afternoon.

George Bush, fast forward to George W. Bush, we're into two wars. We have a completely different situation, and he also happened to have quite an interest in and a thirst for good, daily, hands-on kind of intelligence briefings. So he took his briefing every day from 8:00 to 8:30 every morning, practically without fail for six days a week. So a lot depends on the president.

And the other point I'd emphasize, Jim talked about the peace dividend and the slashing of the national security budgets, which is one of the basic problems he was up against. What the situation that was different for us, that distinguished the Bush administration, was that we were in two conflicts.

So all of the sudden, the CIA, if you will, and the intelligence community generally was much more involved in prosecution of the war on terror. So it's more of a wartime situation.

CONAN: Former DNI John Negroponte, now vice chairman of McLarty Associates, and also with us, R. James Woolsey, former director of central intelligence and now a partner at VantagePoint Venture Partners.

800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. We want to hear from those of you who have been part of the intelligence community. Ed's(ph) on the line from Traverse City in Michigan.

ED (Caller): Yes, sir. I was I served in the U.S. Army and the National Guard, also under some military intelligence through Fort Huachuca in Arizona. And I believe that we should have a centralized command structure involving the FBI, the CIA, Homeland Security and the National Guard so that we can disseminate intel together, in one group, and then disseminate that out to local and state agencies like the state police and fire, EMS, based mostly on Homeland Security because that is out biggest threat.

And I believe that this structure or facility should be away from our largest populated cities, such as D.C. or New York, in case of an attack.

CONAN: James Woolsey?

Mr. WOOLSEY: Well, one issue of course is, as he said, disseminating intelligence to those who need to have it and to some extent to breaking down, as appropriate, the barriers between domestic and foreign so we don't have, you know, someone's father come in in Nigeria and say my son has become an Islamist radical, and then it never gets to the folks who might be able to keep him off the airplane.

So it is important to disseminate, but we need to realize also that non-dissemination in a number of circumstances is what you're after. You're after sending material to people who have a need to know it but not beyond it. After all, Ames disseminated a lot to the KGB.

CONAN: Aldrich Ames.

Mr. WOOLSEY: Aldrich Ames. And Robert Hanssen from the FBI disseminated a lot to the KGB. It's not just that sharing is not the only objective. The objective is sharing with exactly who needs to know and no more.

ED: I understand that.

CONAN: And Ed, you worked in military intelligence. One thing you left out is, obviously, there's military intelligence from satellite reconnaissance and all kinds of intercepts of communications overseas that the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan need to know about.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Huge, and of course these national agencies, like the NSA, the DIA, the CIA, the NGA, the National Geospatial Agency, they all provide play a very important role in supporting the war fighter abroad.

And one of the changes I'd say that has occurred in recent times, and I experienced this when I was ambassador to Iraq, is that we have forward deployed a much larger component of the intelligence community forward deployed than we used to.

CONAN: Ed, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it. If you'd like to get in on the conversation, if you worked in intelligence, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. We'll have more with the former director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, and the former director of central intelligence, R. James Woolsey. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

President Obama announced his nomination of retired Lieutenant General James Clapper to be the next head of U.S. intelligence on June 5th. At the time, the White House for Senate confirmation by July. That may no longer happen. A Senate vote could be pushed back to the fall, in part, because of concerns that General Clapper would be too close to the Pentagon to head civilian spy agencies.

Whoever becomes the fourth director of national intelligence will have a daunting job, coordinating 16 separate agencies, many of which often don't play well together.

So today, advice for the next DNI from two people who have been there. John Negroponte was the first director of national intelligence, now vice-chairman of McLarty Associates, an international consulting firm. James Woolsey served as director of Central Intelligence, is now a partner at VantagePoint Venture Partners, a venture capital firm.

If you've worked in intelligence, we'd like to hear from you. Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And I don't know if you gentlemen saw a piece in the newspaper, the Washington Post, this morning, by Walter Pincus, who asked an interesting question. Is the General Clapper, who's been appointed the next DNI, is he the General Clapper who, when he was the head of the National Geospatial Agency, told then-Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld that the DNI ought to have more control over his agency and lost his job over that, or is he the author of a subsequent memo that was recently released, that said the DNI was encroaching on the turf of the various agencies?

Mr. WOOLSEY: Well, I guess you stand where you sit. I don't know. But, you know, you're talking about advice. First of all, I think he's going to find that he's going to want to have a strong role, and I think that if I had one bit of advice for him, it would be that he ought to concentrate on the major agencies.

There are only a half-dozen or so you mentioned 18, but really there are six that really matter. There's a Department of Homeland Security, there's a National Security Agency, there's the FBI, there's the CIA, there's the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and there's the National Geospatial Agency.

And I think that's a manageable proposition, and you've got to focus your effort on those six agencies.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: And I think he can do it, especially since he's run one of them, and he ran the Pentagon intelligence setup, also.

CONAN: James Woolsey, when you were DCI, one of the you were supposedly coordinating and in charge of all of this. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the budget and control lay at the Pentagon and the director the secretary of defense.

Mr. WOOLSEY: Well, and Jim Clapper, at the time, was director of the DIA, and he did a very good job. I think Jim has the history and background of understanding, both the civilian and military sides of all this, very well, and pulling it together is the heart of the matter.

People sometimes say, well, are you more in favor of spending effort on human intelligence or on technical intelligence? Well, for years it's been the case that spies tip off satellites, and satellites tip off spies.

It's an integrated operation, and the key thing is to have a kind of fingertip feel for how that integration has worked in the past, how it hasn't worked in the past and what the interests of the various institutions are so you can get them to work together. And I think Jim has that kind of ability and background. I think it was a good choice.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to Andy(ph), Andy calling from San Antonio.

ANDY (Caller): Yes, good afternoon. Just a brief sidebar for Mr. Negroponte. I spent a lot of time in Manila, and your time there as ambassador is very fondly remembered by the intelligencia there. They have a very high opinion of you.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Thank you.

CONAN: Before he was DNI, John Negroponte was a career diplomat and served as ambassador in, among other places, The Philippines.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Yeah, and if I could just mention, because Jim was talking about the budget battles he was having in those days, this is from '93 to '96. January of 1995, my station chief walks in and says hey, boss, I've just been told to cut my station in half because of budget-saving things.

And a few weeks later, they made arrests that led ultimately to the capture of Ramzi Yousef, who had escaped from The Philippines and who had been involved in the bombing of the the first bombing of the World Trade Center - just to show you how our intelligence expenditures were going right in the opposite direction of the developing threat.

Mr. WOOLSEY: Absolutely.

CONAN: Andy, you had another question?

ANDY: Yes. It just seems to me I was a linguist with NSA a long time ago, and the post of national director of intelligence almost seems to just have a convenient head to roll when something goes wrong. Maybe it ought to be split up again.

CONAN: Ah, okay, or maybe the first piece of advice is make sure you get enrolled in the health plan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Well, we're not in iteration number four. Jim will be the fourth director, if he gets confirmed, and I think probably we're developing a little more realistic appreciation of what this job can do.

And if you take I was thinking about the words used nomenclature - he's not going to be the intelligence czar, nor is it going to be a Cabinet department, but he's going to be like a manager. I think that's the way to think of him, as a manager.

Mr. WOOLSEY: I really would add a hooray to that, and I especially think we ought to avoid the word czar. You know, 500 years of stupidity and rigidity followed by the victory of Bolshevism is not a good model for the management of the American intelligence community or anything else.

CONAN: It derives from tsar or Kaiser. Anyway, they had some better luck, for a while, anyway. Thanks very much for the call, Andy, appreciate it.

You were also at the White House, as you mentioned at one point. That's another player in the game, and a lot of it involves the personalities involved here, because the national security advisor, in the White House, is another important player in this community.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Well, absolutely, and in the day-to-day running of the national security of the country, he's really the go-to person, the key person in this setup because the president has got the whole range of responsibilities. So yeah, in every single instance that I can think of, the NSA advisor has been an absolutely critical player in this.

CONAN: Here's an email from Sean(ph) in Charlotte. Could you ask your guests, how much does personal ideology play into who's chosen to be DNI, and how much can they influence and how much can that influence how the job is executed daily?

I should say, both of my guests worked for several administrations and both parties.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: I've had presidential appointments in four administrations, two Republican, two Democratic. I don't think most of the time, the DNI now, or the DCIA now, or the DCI in the past, were selected for one ideological bent or another.

And they shouldn't be because the job is to, as they used to say on "Dragnet," to give just the facts, ma'am. And if you don't have the facts then explain what facts you don't have, and what you know and what you don't know.

But it's not to try to skew things. The DNI or DCIA now, should not be involved, I don't think, at all, in making policy recommendations because if you are, people will think, and perhaps rightly so, that you're skewing intelligence in order to match up with your policy preferences. So you really ought to be, in those jobs, policy-neutral, call it like you see it, where you don't know something, explain why and what the gaps are.

CONAN: Let's go next to Sam(ph), Sam with us from San Luis Obispo.

SAM (Caller): Hi, yes, I spent five years in the Marine Corps in signals intelligence. I was at First and Third Radio Battalions. I wonder if there are any plans to raise the competence and retention in military intelligence in general because I saw a lot of very, very talented people when I was in Marine Corps, that the government spent a lot of money on training as linguist and signals intelligence operators and things like that.

And almost universally, the good ones would get out at five years. They would leave, and the military would just lose that talent. Is there are there any plans, or is there any talk, about this problem in the military in general?

Mr. NEGROPONTE: I mean, I don't know the exact answer to that question, although of course I'm aware of the general issue of retention that the military faces and the efforts that are made in that regard.

I would hazard a guess, unfortunate as it might be for the losing service, that I suspect that some of these people then go on to work in intelligence functions elsewhere in the government.

After all, we've got an intelligence community of 100,000 spread out through a whole multiplicity of agencies.

Mr. WOOLSEY: A fair number of people at the CIA are former military, and we've, over the years, been very delighted to have them.

CONAN: Sam, thanks very much for the call. I wanted to go on. He was talking about military intelligence. We've heard a lot also about morale and retention in the CIA over the question of interrogation and whether the repercussions of the investigations as to what was appropriate, what was not, what was legal, what was not.

Mr. WOOLSEY: Well, the morale, from the point of view of the commitment to the mission and the huge numbers of people applying to get in these days, CIA's much harder to get into than the very best colleges and universities in the country, at least in pure statistical terms.

CONAN: Good.

Mr. WOOLSEY: That I think speaks well of particularly young people, who see this as a hugely important aspect of our being able to prevail in this war against Islamist terrorism that we're in.

I think that the administration has made some mistakes, and particularly with respect to re-opening those investigations of the CIA officers who were involved in the interrogations. That was thoroughly reviewed by professionals at the Department of Justice. One person was prosecuted. The rest - matters were dismissed, and then Attorney General Holder started those up again.

No, it's technically not double jeopardy, but it is certainly something that strikes terribly at the morale of the institution when people are given a written memo saying what they're doing is appropriate from the Justice Department's point of view, when they're investigated after the fact by the Justice Department and then - and dis - had these dismissed, and then reinvestigated yet again. Seven former...

CONAN: The attorney general said he was only investigating those cases where they went beyond those instructions.

Mr. WOOLSEY: Well, the previous investigations indicated that they had not gone beyond those instructions. And seven of us who are former heads of the CIA, and one under either the old system or the new one, signed a letter to the president taking very strong issue with Attorney General Holder for, I think, a very bad judgment.

CONAN: And finally, in the CIA in particular, are we past the days that - the CIA was criticized for a long time for being set up to do one thing - look at the Soviet Union at its satellites states - and was not ready to adapt to the new world. Are we past that time?

Mr. WOOLSEY: Oh, I think so, in both - in terms of people. You walk the halls in Langley and it looks increasingly like the United Nations. There are people of all sorts of ethnic backgrounds and differences in language skills and the rest there. It's a very an institution, I think, that's deeply committed to trying to protect the country. And it's - the morale, for the incoming people especially, is good. I think the country is very lucky to have the CIA operating the way it is now.

CONAN: We're talking with R. James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, now a partner at Vantage Point Venture Partners. And with John Negroponte, the first-ever director of the National Intelligence, now the vice chairman McLarty Associates, which is an international consulting firm. As we mentioned before, he had a long career in diplomacy in the State Department. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION which is coming to you from NPR News.

And let's go next to Jerry(ph), Jerry with us from Princeton.

JERRY (Caller): Hi, great show. Appreciate these people being on. I went to West Point. I've worked as a general's aide, 18th Airborne Corps, and was in -worked in the State Department, in the Bureau of Strategic Technology and Nuclear Affairs. And so I've dealt a lot in meetings where there's cross-agency intelligence collaboration. I had a very high security clearance.

And my perception was each individual agency on a day-to-day basis - at least my own personal experience - was people are so concerned about - as Mr. Woolsey said, you know, making sure people only have the right information on a need-to-know basis, I think we're so afraid sometimes of somebody getting information that they don't need that it actually impinges our ability to share information. And people are so concerned about protecting their specific sources in different agencies that it seems to me that that fear almost - what we protect is, in my opinion, less than what we lose in the ability to cooperate with one another because we're so afraid of somebody getting the wrong information.

CONAN: And how long ago was that, Jerry?

JERRY: Well, this was - I was in the State Department, actually, in the mid-'80s, working there. And then it was in the late '80s I was at 18th Airborne Corps.

CONAN: Okay.

JERRY: It was a few years there.

CONAN: John Negroponte?

Mr. NEGROPONTE: I think you'll find today that there's a lot more sharing across the board, throughout all the different agencies. I'm sometimes extremely surprised - I was surprised at how widespread the information was. And I think technology helped us enormously. I mean, with the information revolution, the ability to share has been enhanced manifold.

And yet you still do have the problem that Jim Woolsey was referring to earlier. You know, how do you strike that right balance between the need to share - which you do want to do in order to be able to gather all the perspectives from different points of view - with the need to know? You don't want to share information that if it's slips into the wrong hands could really harm our national security. So it's a constant struggle. But I think that there's a lot more sharing today on a real-time basis and in a way that helps our country than they used to be.

CONAN: (Unintelligible) those silos we heard about after...

Mr. NEGROPONTE: I think the silo thing is a little bit overstated these days.

Mr. WOOLSEY: One of the things we need to be able to do is find technology that will let us enforce need-to-know and make a conscious decision. Let's say that there - this is an extremely important anti-terrorist operation, there are four people who ought to be in on it, they're in four different organizations. Each one gets the information about it but nobody else.

If we could technologically enforce that, then we could come up with a much better way, I think, of striking this balance between sharing and restricting, because both of those values - not having anybody know who doesn't need to know is important - but so is having the people who - or can actually be helpful on an operation get precisely the information even if there - the fellow sitting at the next desk doesn't get it.

CONAN: Jerry, thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we got one last caller in. This is Liam(ph) and Liam is with us from Shirley in New York.

LIAM (Caller): Yes, sir. I'm a former petty officer in the U.S. Navy. I've worked at NSA/CSS Hawaii. And I'm just curious, how much operational control and what the limitations of the power that the new DNI is going to have.

CONAN: Do you have a data (unintelligible) the answer?

LIAM: Excuse me?

Mr. NEGROPONTE: No. Yeah. But I go back to my earlier point. I felt that the job should not be an operational job. So I tried not to get down into how each of the agencies were running their businesses: Giving them guidelines, asking them why did things certain ways. But in terms of day-to-day operational control, that ought to be the job of each of the agency heads. And maybe, like Jim said, his old role as DCI, you're sure the chairman of the board, but you're not the CEO or the COO, for that matter.

CONAN: But you said also you need to be close to the president, so if something important is happening...

Mr. NEGROPONTE: That's in terms of your role as the principal intelligence adviser to the president of the United States and to help him interpret this myriad information that comes to his attention.

CONAN: But if something important needs to be briefed to the president, you say and here's the head of the relevant agency to tell you what it is.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Correct. Yeah.

CONAN: Okay. All right.

Mr. WOOLSEY: Or you take along the expert, the substantive expert with you.

CONAN: So make sure that...

Mr. WOOLSEY: Yeah.

CONAN: ...you're directing the president to the appropriate sources and not monopolizing his time.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Oh, absolutely.

CONAN: All right. Well, Liam, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

LIAM: Thanks.

CONAN: And we want to thank both of you for your time today. We do appreciate that. And we'll have to see what happens with the confirmation process for General Clapper. But we thank you very much for coming in to join us today.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Good to be with you.

Mr. WOOLSEY: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Former DNI, the first-ever DNI, John Negroponte, was with us here in Studio 3A. Also R. James Woolsey, who was formerly director of the...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: ...Central Intelligence director of Central Intelligence under President Clinton.

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