Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bush's Choice

It's official, President Bush has nominated John Negroponte, our current Ambassador to Iraq, to serve as the nation's first Director of National Intelligence, or DNI.

Negroponte, who previously served as our UN Ambassador, is an interesting choice. A career diplomat, Mr. Negroponte has no prior experience in the intelligence community. In announcing the nomination, President Bush observed that Negroponte understands global intelligence needs because of his long career in foreign service. That's a bit like saying he knows how to build a car because he's been driving one for 30 years. Being a long-time consumer of intelligence doesn't necessarily qualify you to lead the IC into the 21st Century. However, Ambassador Negroponte is, by all accounts, an exceptionally bright and able man, who (in the President's words) "understands the power centers in Washington." In other words, he knows right buttons to push to keep the funding turned on.

But the real story in today's announcement lies in President Bush's choice for Deputy Director of National Intelligence: Lieutenant General Mike Hayden, who now serves as Director of the National Security Agency (NSA). As Negroponte's deputy, Hayden will have the difficult job of improving coordination, planning and information sharing among the 15 or so agencies that form the nation's intelligence community. Using a sports metaphor, it's the national security equivalent of a tough double-play; Negroponte, the shortstop, will "field" the mission (transform the IC and serve as the point man for intelligence reform), but Hayden, the second baseman, has to turn the pivot and actually make it happen.

General Hayden is more than up to the challenge. A career Air Force intelligence officer, he is the longest-serving director in NSA history. When he assumed the director's position in 1999, NSA was an agency adrift, badly in need of reform. Over the past six years, he's done many of the things Poter Goss is now attempting at the CIA--getting rid of malcontents and deadwood, and turning to the commercial sector to develop innovative technological solutions for intelligence problems. His selection for a second tour as NSA director is a testament to both his vision and management skills--something he will surely need in his new job.

More than a few spooks--current and former--expressed concern over Negroponte's appointment; afterall, the DNI post should not be an entry-level job. But Hayden's appointment as #2 will go a long way toward alleviating those fears. Together, they could be a very effective team.

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