DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Now, an update on an important job for the U.S. fight against terrorism. The nation's number two intelligence post has been vacant for more than a year. Insiders say several candidates for deputy director of National Intelligence have been approached; some have declined. The White House has vetoed others. Either way, the delay is raising questions about why the White House would allow such a senior job to stay open for so long.
Here is NPR's Mary Louise Kelly.
MARY LOUISE KELLY: No one is more keenly aware of the need to appoint a deputy than the National Intelligence director himself, Mike McConnell.
Mr. MIKE McCONNELL (Director, National Intelligence): I didn't quite anticipate that my day would start at least six days a week and some days seven days a week at four o'clock in the morning.
KELLY: In a recent speech, McConnell noted that since he took over as intelligence chief four months ago, he's essentially been doing two jobs -briefing the president every day at the White House and then turning his attention to oversight of the 16 U.S. spy agencies.
Mr. McCONNELL: So my biggest challenge really is just stamina. Can I stay with this? It was a little easier when I was a little younger but that's what I'm adjusting to.
KELLY: When Congress created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the idea was the director would serve as the president's chief intelligence adviser and would think strategically about the direction of U.S. spy efforts while the day-to-day coordination of those efforts would fall to the top deputy. That was the division of labor under the two original leaders, John Negroponte and his deputy, Michael Haden. But Haden left back in May 2006 to take the top job at the CIA.
At the Senate hearing, Jay Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, grilled senior DNI official Patrick Kennedy about the lengthy vacancy.
Senator JAY ROCKEFELLER (Democrat, West Virginia; Chair, Intelligence Committee): There has been no nomination made to fulfill the position of the principal deputy director of National Intelligence since General Haden's departure. Why?
Mr. PATRICK KENNEDY (Deputy Director for Management, National Intelligence): The answer to that sir is that the director and the White House had been engaged in a very, very intensive search for the right individual for such an important position. And now...
KELLY: But that exchange took place six months ago and still no sign of a deputy. A number of names have circulated. Two sources - neither of whom is authorized to speak on the record on the matter - say the current leading candidate is Donald Kerr. He's a CIA and FBI veteran who's now running the National Reconnaissance Office. Kerr's office did not return calls and it's not clear whether he wants the job.
Professor AMY ZEGART (U.S. Intelligence Expert, UCLA): The problem is finding someone to do what has become a thankless job.
KELLY: That's Amy Zegart, an associate professor at UCLA and an expert on U.S. intelligence. Zegart points to a long list of challenges that faced the DNI leadership. And she questions why anyone would want to take on, as she puts it, such an uphill slog.
Prof. ZEGART: We saw the same problem back when the DNI's position was created in 2004. The president had to go through a pretty long list of candidates before he finally got someone to say yes - John Negroponte. And Negroponte didn't last very long.
KELLY: Here is one more hurdle: persuading a deputy to come onboard so late in President Bush's tenure. Whoever ultimately lands the number two job in U.S. intelligence may only have it until January 2009.
Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.
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