National Intelligence Chief Takes on More Authority

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A leaked memo from new U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte invites CIA station chiefs to report directly to new Negroponte on some matters, instead of the CIA's Porter Goss. Some intelligence insiders fear the move is a blow to Goss' authority and may invite confusion.


From his makeshift headquarters near the White House, the nation's first intelligence chief is quietly starting to shake up the intelligence bureaucracy. John Negroponte has been in the job nearly three weeks. He's hired four deputies, he's taken over the president's morning intelligence briefing and, in a move that's upset some spy veterans, he sent a memo to CIA station chiefs around the world. It invites them to report directly to him on some matters. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly has that story.


Negroponte's memo is classified. Officials who've read it describe it as Negroponte introducing himself to his troops; the message being, `I'm on the scene now, and I'm in charge.' The controversial part is that it invites CIA station chiefs to communication directly with Negroponte on some issues. That has raised the hackles of CIA insiders, who fear the memo represents a further blow to the authority of CIA Director Porter Goss.

One former intelligence officials says at the very least, the memo invites confusion. `If you're a CIA station chief in the field,' this official says, `you're going to be wondering, "To whom exactly do I report now and on which issues?"' The official continues, `Say you're about to do an operation, you can't be asking, "Whose permission do I need?" You just don't have time for that.'

CIA spokeswoman Anya Guilsher dismisses the hand-wringing as overwrought. Guilsher says the notion that CIA field officers will suddenly start bypassing their bosses at Langley headquarters is ridiculous. A spokesperson for Negroponte agrees. Like others interviewed for this story, the spokesperson for the director of national intelligence declined to speak on tape, but gave a statement saying, `The chiefs of station will serve as DNI representatives in carrying out overseas responsibilities and functions related to the intelligence community. At the same time, they'll continue to serve and support the CIA.'

Asking station chiefs to serve two masters is perhaps a symptom of the ambiguities present in last year's intelligence reform legislation. That law sought to reinvent US intelligence operations, but it was short on details for how to do so or what specific powers intelligence chief Negroponte would wield. Aides to both Negroponte and Porter Goss say the two men speak frequently, and that for the moment, both are showing up at the Oval Office for the president's daily intelligence briefing.

Two former senior CIA officials point out the director of central intelligence traditionally derived a lot of his power from his access to fresh clandestine intelligence from overseas. They say for Negroponte to appear credible, he needs to plug directly into the overseas intelligence channels, that he can't afford to get his news secondhand from Goss. `Fair enough,' these two veterans say, `John Negroponte is the boss now, and if something goes wrong, he'll be the one who gets the blame.' Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.

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