Where Does Negroponte Leave Intelligence?

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Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte

When John Negroponte was nominated to the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) almost two years ago, the smooth-talking career diplomat described his new post as "vital to the protection of our country" and one that "will no doubt be the most challenging assignment I have undertaken in more than 40 years of government service."

Now, as Negroponte leaves the DNI to become Condoleezza Rice's deputy at the State Department, what is in doubt is just how how much he has left undone and how much of a blow another presidentially ordered change at the top will be for a $44 billion intelligence community still in turmoil.

To fill Negroponte's job, President Bush today named former Navy Adm. Mike McConnell, now a senior executive at the management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, whose previous billets included heading the National Security Agency. McConnell had declined to step in as Negroponte's deputy when Michael Hayden left that job eight months ago to become the new CIA Director. McConnell is an affable, respected national security hand originally from South Carolina. It remains to be seen whether he'll fare better than Negroponte. It also remains to be seen whether McConnell's work for Booz Allen Hamilton, where he is now a senior vice president, and his service on the boards of other security companies, will be controversial.

The DNI's office is currently investigating the extent of intelligence contracting, and some lawmakers are concerned about the cost and effectiveness of the government's extensive outsourcing of intelligence functions. Booz Allen enjoyed nearly $2 billion in federal contracts in fiscal year 2005, according to a recent listing in Government Executive magazine. About $1.2 billion of that money came from the Pentagon, which disburses about 80% of the intelligence budget, the magazine says. A year ago, Booz Allen paid nearly $3.4 million to settle a government false claims suit, according to a statement issued by the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles. Booz Allen spokesman George Farrar said McConnell had no involvement in the case, which involved alleged overbilling of travel costs.

McConnell certainly has his own challenges ahead. The intelligence reform Negroponte was hired to implement is in the dangerous state of being both well under way and nowhere near finished. Negroponte came in with a mandate to ensure that the 16 intelligence agencies, which together approach 100,000 employees, share any information that might stop a terrorist attack and better handle intelligence such as that used to promote the Iraq war. Though details are secret, there seems to have been progress in this area. Congressional and intelligence officials say there also appear to have been improvements in intelligence analysis.

But Negroponte is the first to admit it's far from finished. He was also under orders to boost the number of spies and analysts by 50%, while increasing the number of American spooks who are competent in languages such as Arabic, Farsi and Korean. Negroponte told TIME last April that such recruitment was improving but could only go so fast. "We're beefing up in places where we hadn't been, where we'd allowed things to atrophy during the, after the end of the Cold War in Latin America and Africa," he said. But, he conceded, the progress is "maybe not exactly as fast as we would like in terms of increasing the humint collectors [that is, spies] by 50%, but that's because there's a lot of support activities that are involved. There's a lot of logistics. There's also training constraints."

Stocking his own bureaucracy, by contrast, was no problem for Negroponte. He accumulated a staff of 1,500 plus a substantial but classified number of consultants. That's about double the staff envisioned in the law that established the DNI, and it only stoked the criticism that the new cabinet-level agency is an elephantine bureaucracy with a leadership vacuum; a permanent replacement for Hayden as deputy has still not been named, though an Army lieutenant general has been acting deputy DNI since mid-2006. (The deputy secretary of State post for which Negroponte is now headed has been vacant nearly as long.)

"Director Negroponte has not had a confirmed deputy since May 2006, when General Michael Hayden left to head the CIA," the new Senate intelligence committee chairman, Jay Rockefeller, complained in a statement. "It is not acceptable for the top two jobs to be vacant at the same time. The leadership of the Intelligence Community is too important." Adding insult to injury, Negroponte had several times denied he might be moving to State, and the White House failed to notify Rockefeller in advance of the intelligence shuffle.

The crescendo of complaints from Congress and elsewhere over Negroponte's move stems from the feeling that he's leaving a job undone. One senior legislator, who had many complaints about Negroponte's tenure, nonetheless told TIME, "I would have preferred to have him stay." But in the end, the decision was Bush's. "John and I both know that change can be unsettling," Bush said in appointing Negroponte to the job in February 2005 (he took office three months later), "and so, therefore, I'm sure there's some people out there wondering right now what this means for their jobs and the influence of a particular agency into the White House." They're still wondering.