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Negroponte's Departure Shows Pressure of the Post
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Negroponte's Departure Shows Pressure of the Post

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Negroponte's Departure Shows Pressure of the Post
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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie. There were a lot of changes in Washington this week, in Congress and the military and at the State Department. But right now, we're going to focus on the upheaval in intelligence.

John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, resigned this week to become deputy secretary of state. President Bush has nominated Admiral Mike McConnell, the former head of the National Security Agency, to replace him. The post of director of national intelligence was created on 19 months ago, to oversee all intelligence services in the wake of a series of intelligence failures prior to 9/11.

At the time the post was proposed, we spoke with Amy Zegart, associate professor of public policy at the school of public affairs at UCLA. She's also the author of "Flawed by Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS and NSC." We've brought her back to discuss the latest change, and she joins us now. Welcome back to the program, Professor Zegart.

Professor AMY ZEGART (UCLA): Thanks for having me.

YDSTIE: Back in 2004, you were dubious about what was then just a proposal to create the post of director of national intelligence. Having seen John Negroponte in action for 19 months, what's your assessment now?

Prof. ZEGART: Well, I'm reluctant to say this, but it has been very disappointing. This is one thing where I wish I were wrong, but I think that his departure is a very public indicator that the DNI's office is not working well.

Back in 2004, you may remember, when the position was created by Congress, President Bush spent weeks trying to convince somebody to take the job. Several people turned him down, including our current secretary of defense, Bob Gates, and the reason was they were concerned that it was a thankless and impossible job.

And I think that Negroponte's early departure, with a war on terror going on and a war in Iraq on the ground, and with his number two spot vacant for months, suggest that he too believes that it's now a thankless and impossible task.

YDSTIE: Was Negroponte eased out of the job, or did the administration just feel a need for his expertise on Iraq at the State Department as they revise their policy on Iraq?

Prof. ZEGART: I'm not sure we know the answer to that question yet, but I think the simple fact that the number one and number two positions in intelligence are now currently vacant suggests that something's going on, that the Iraq policy is considered by some to be an easier problem to solve than fixing U.S. intelligence.

YDSTIE: You identified one of the big problems in the intelligence community as the split between the CIA and the Defense Department. Eighty-five percent of the intelligence budget resided in Donald Rumsfeld's office when he was secretary of defense. How successful was John Negroponte in dealing with the Defense Department?

Prof. ZEGART: Not very is the short answer to that question. What we've seen in the past two years is a food fight between the DNI's office and the Pentagon, and the big winner over the past two years looks like it's been the Pentagon. We've seen an increasing influence of the Pentagon in intelligence collection and analysis, both abroad and at home, and that was not the intention of the intelligence reform legislation in 2004.

YDSTIE: And now we have a new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, himself a former head of the CIA, and a new director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell. What are your expectations for both of them?

Prof. ZEGART: Well, it's going to be very interesting to see what happens because Gates has been a supporter of coordinating intelligence in the DNI, and perhaps one of the most interesting things that he's done recently has been his appointment of the principle intelligence official in the Pentagon, Jim Clapper, a guy who was fired by Rumsfeld because he believed that the DNI's office should be the principal overseer of U.S. intelligence efforts.

So you see a real shift in the Pentagon toward supporting centralization of intelligence under the DNI's office. At the same time, McConnell raises some concerns about whether he fully appreciates the need to balance military intelligence with strategic or long-term intelligence. So it's going to be a very interesting relationship to see.

YDSTIE: Back in 2004, the CIA in particular and the intelligence community as a whole were described as dysfunctional. How would you describe the state of America's intelligence services today, 19 months after we've had a director of national intelligence? Is it better than it was before 9/11?

Prof. ZEGART: No, I don't think it is, and I think in fact in some areas we've gotten worse. If you look at all the major problems in U.S. intelligence that existed before 9/11, they all still exist today. There is still no one in charge of U.S. intelligence, despite the creation of this new director of national intelligence. There is still terrible information sharing across the intelligence agencies.

We've made some progress. I think there's still terrible dysfunction in the FBI, which continues to labor to develop analytic capabilities and transform itself from a law enforcement agency to a domestic intelligence agency.

As one former intelligence official recently joked to me, Prozac doesn't come in doses large enough to deal with the problems we face in U.S. intelligence.

YDSTIE: Amy Zegart is associate professor of public policy at the School of Public Affairs at UCLA. She's also currently writing a book about why the CIA and FBI failed to adapt to the rise of terrorism after the Cold War. Thanks again for speaking with us.

Prof. ZEGART: Thanks for having me.

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