Negroponte Faces Rebuilding Job in U.S. Intelligence
By Bob Drogin
Times Staff Writer
6:52 PM PDT, May 6, 2005
WASHINGTON — Computers are being unboxed, newly hired staffers are forced to double up in tiny cubicles, and the smell of fresh paint fills the air in a carefully guarded brick building around the corner from the White House.
Still under construction, the offices at the new Executive Office Building are home for the next few months to John Negroponte, the nation's first director of national intelligence. But Negroponte has a far more difficult construction project ahead: rebuilding the nation's badly battered intelligence agencies.
Negroponte already has started filling President Bush in on the latest haul from U.S. espionage and bugging operations, taking over the crucial early morning presidential intelligence briefing less than a week after he was sworn in April 21. Negroponte also attends the president's meetings with members of the Cabinet and other senior officials.
He thus has ended a decades-old tradition in which the CIA chief delivered the presidential briefing each morning and frequently functioned as a Cabinet-level adviser. The move signified Negroponte's powerful role as America's chief spy -- and puts him in the spotlight if the nation suffers another major intelligence failure.
Congress created the DNI job last fall, based on the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, which documented glaring gaps in U.S. intelligence and law enforcement. Under the law, the director has immense -- although largely undefined -- authority to set policy, impose directives and streamline America's vast, $40 billion-a-year intelligence system.
Just finding office space has proved a challenge, however.
A senior intelligence official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity Friday at the DNI offices, described the current arrangement as "our transient quarters." He said Negroponte and his planned staff of 500 to 700 people will move next fall to "temporary quarters" on the top two floors of a new building at Bolling Air Force Base, which lies across the Potomac River from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
The DNI's ultimate headquarters is still unknown, as is much of the long-term organization and operation. Officials are moving cautiously, creating one job at a time, in an effort to better control the nation's 15 intelligence services.
"This is an evolving thing," the senior intelligence official said, displaying a diagram of new jobs, responsibilities and lines of authority in the DNI's office. "We're beyond chalk. . . . Now we're on paper."
As a start, Negroponte has appointed four top deputies to supervise intelligence collection, analysis, interagency management and liaison with the White House and other intelligence "customers."
Thomas Fingar, an intelligence veteran who has been assistant secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, was put in charge of the DNI's analysis unit. The State Department's tiny intelligence bureau repeatedly challenged the CIA over the quality of intelligence before the war in Iraq, but was overruled. Nearly all the pre-war U.S. intelligence on illicit Iraqi weapons later proved inaccurate.
Fingar's analysis unit also will take over the National Intelligence Council, which issued an erroneous national intelligence estimate of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in October 2002. He will become the council's chairman.
Also named was David R. Shedd, a special assistant to the president for intelligence programs, as chief of staff; Ambassador Patrick F. Kennedy, a career member of the U.S. foreign service, as chief of intelligence management; and Mary Margaret Graham, a veteran CIA operations officer, as head of intelligence collection.
In a statement issued by his office, Negroponte said he has spent "a lot of time searching for good people" and was delighted that "such dedicated and experienced individuals" have agreed to join his office. "I am confident that those who are not yet announced are of equal caliber," he added.