January 4, 2007

John Negroponte Demoted; Good News?

Hatched by Dafydd

In an unexpected but I think good development today, President Bush announced that Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will leave his position. He is widely expected to be replaced by VADM John Michael "Mike" McConnell, former Director of the National Security Agency... though that announcement has not yet been made, and the White House cautions it is not a done deal.

Negroponte will take the lesser position of Deputy Secretary of State, the number 2 position behind Secretary Condoleezza Rice; although this is considered both a critical position and a a major career assignment, it has stood vacant for several months. Dr. Rice has evidently asked several people to take the position, but has been unsuccessful. This may be due to the terrible demands on that position right now, or else because the specific people she asked were happy where they were.

This is probably a good move: John Negroponte is a career diplomat who likely hopes to be Secretary of State himself one day, and being the principal deputy is certainly a boost in that direction. But he has very little intelligence experience: as a top ambassador (to the United Nations and then to Iraq), in the Philippines in the 1990s (appointed by President George H.W. Bush), and earlier as ambassador to Mexico, he would naturally have had extensive contact with the CIA officers in the embassy; but this is not the same as running intelligence operations.

When Negroponte was ambassador to Honduras, he was aware of and supported our covert aid to the contras in Nicaragua, and many Democrats were greatly exercised about this. But even so, Negroponte is primarily a diplomat; he has no experience actually spying, analyzing intelligence, or running covert operations. He will likely be much happier -- and undoubtedly more effective -- as the principal depute at State than as the DNI.

Still, it is unquestionably a demotion: as DNI, he was a cabinet official; as principal deputy to Condoleezza Rice, he is not. It's hard to spin that any other way.

I see the switch as an admission that Negroponte had risen to his level of incompetence, à la the Peter Principle. Bear in mind that "level of incompetence" doesn't mean the person is actually incompetent... just that he is less competent at the higher position than he was at the lower position. Bush, a good manager, is shifting Negroponte back to the area he knows well, even in a lower slot, rather than keeping him in the higher slot, where he is somewhat asea.

I just heard Frank Gaffney, of the Center for Security Policy, on Hugh Hewitt, and he doesn't like this appointment; he believes that Negroponte will encourage the "insubordination" and "sabotage" of the president's policies by State; but it's hard to take Gaffney seriously, as he is always crying wolf. It's hard to see John Negroponte as being anti-Bush.

Anent McConnell to be NDI, he worries that intelligence will be too skewed towards signals intel (electronic), as opposed to Bill Casey-style human intelligence. Since both the potential NDI and the current Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), Michael Hayden, come from the National Intelligence Agency, which handles signals intel, this is indeed a concern; but I think it's a big overblown. I doubt that McConnell will suggest, against everybody else's advice (including DCI Hayden), that we forget about humint and go heavier with sigint.

Assuming Mike McConnell is, in fact, Negroponte's replacement, he seems a much better fit as Director of National Intelligence. By contrast with Negroponte, McConnell has spent virtually his entire professional career in intelligence, including a five-year stint as Director of the National Intelligence Agency from 1992-1996 (again, appointed by former Director of the CIA and rumored long-time deep-cover CIA operative George H.W. Bush). Prior to that, McConnell was Director of Joint Staff Intelligence, which is the top intelligence position advising the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Earlier in his Navy career, he served as an intelligence officer in Vietnam, Japan, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean -- four very hot spots. (And also a good reason to suppose McConnell appreciates and understands the urgency of actual "spooks on the ground" to gather intelligence.)

McConnell, in "Godfather" terms, is a "wartime consigliere" with long experience in military intelligence and wartime intelligence... much more what we need as Director of National Intelligence, who in addition to being the chief intelligence advisor to the President, the National Security Council, and Homeland Security, is also the director of the National Intelligence Program -- which makes him the top intelligence officer in the United States.

McConnell was a close friend to current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates when Gates was Director of Central Intelligence at the same time McConnell was Director of the National Security Agency. It's also likely, in my opinion (though I cannot find documentation of this), that current DCI Michael Hayden worked within the NSA prior to becoming its director in 1999; if so, he was very probably a senior deputy at the same time that McConnell was Director of the NSA... which would mean that Hayden once worked under McConnell and will now be doing so again! (I hope they got along.)

If McConnell is tapped, and if the Senate confirms him, it would mean the final takeover of all civilian foreign-policy intelligence agencies by military personnel (which, during a war, is not a bad idea at all):

  • Director of National Intelligence: Vice Admiral Mike McConnell;
  • Director of Central Intelligence: Air Force General Michael Vincent Hayden;
  • Director of the National Intelligence Agency: Army Lieutenant General Keith B. Alexander (also Commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Network Warfare);
  • And, of course, the Department of Defense intelligence agencies are all headed by military personnel: Air Intelligence Agency, Army Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency, Marine Corps Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Nicely distributed between the services, too... though the Marines seem to have been stinted in the top three spots.

Only Robert Mueller, FBI Director, is not a senior military officer -- though he did command a rifle platoon in Vietnam as a Marine Corps officer; on the theory "once a Marine, always a Marine," the Corps can at least claim to hold one of the top intelligence positions!

There are several hurdles to overcome: both positions require Senate confirmation, and the Democrats seem poised to exploit the opportunity to rake all of Bush's policies over the dying embers of liberal wrath once more. They will likely attempt to extract firm promises from both McConnell and Negroponte that they will completely ignore anything the president says and instead take their orders directly from Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 100%) and Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 100%).

It's absolutely guaranteed that some Senate Democrats will mount a filibuster against one or the other (or both!); but unless something completely unexpected comes out -- highly unlikely, as each has gone through confirmation hearings several times -- the filibusters will be unsuccessful and will just make asses of the Democrats (again).

But if the switch manages to go through, I expect it will help the critical task of intelligence gathering and analysis; and Negroponte will make a much better top diplomat than he has as DNI -- assuming Frank Gaffney is incorrect that he will mold Condoleezza Rice into the next Colin Powell. So yes, on the whole, I think this does count as "good news."

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 4, 2007, at the time of 3:56 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2007 2:49 AM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

Why is W so shy about firing people?

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2007 4:07 AM

The following hissed in response by: LarryD

Captain Ed points out that the DNI post has little actual authority, Negroponte will have more influence in his new post. For all the good the DNI position can do, it might as well be left unfilled.

The above hissed in response by: LarryD [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2007 5:59 AM

The following hissed in response by: RRRoark

I can't help remembering another retired admiral screwing up the CIA and setting up multiple problems in the mid-east. Stansfield Turner of "Halloween Massacre" fame. The idiot that prioritized psychics after technical and signals intelligence but before human assets on the ground. Who, after his tenure at the CIA (not during it, of course) wrote a book advocating disbanding the CIA.

The above hissed in response by: RRRoark [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2007 7:39 AM

The following hissed in response by: LarryD

Sen. Moynihan had advocated disbanding the CIA, too. I've come to understand why.

The State Department needs a though housecleaning too, but their personnel rules protect them from that, so that's not going to happen.

The above hissed in response by: LarryD [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2007 11:14 AM

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