President Bush made an interesting remark when he announced the appointment of John Negroponte as NDI -- National Director of Intelligence. He said that Ambassador Negroponte "understands the power centers of Washington."
What the 9/11 commission had in mind when it recommended a superchief of intelligence was someone who understands power centers abroad and can coordinate the intelligence community's understanding of the threat that the United States faces.
But maybe the president had it right. Maybe the NDI's first job is to get the traditional intelligence power centers to work in harness. Nothing revealed the need for a strong hand at the tiller more than the unseemly spectacle that the intelligence community exhibited on Capitol Hill the day before the Negroponte appointment.
Before the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA Director Porter Goss warned that "Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists," some of whom will scatter to build terror cells around the world. The idea that the Iraq war may have created a threat that did not exist before the invasion runs counter to the White House-Pentagon orthodoxy that beating the terrorists in Iraq may spare us from having to fight them on our home soil.
Perhaps that was why Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, appearing before a House committee on the same day, displayed unusual testiness. Asked how many insurgents there are in Iraq, he said, "I'm not going to give you a number" because "it's not my business to do intelligence work." Asked how long the war might last, he said, "There's never been a war that was predictable as to length."
But Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, director of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, was more cooperative in an appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He said the Iraq insurgency has grown "in size and complexity over the past year," and is now mounting an average of 60 attacks a day, up from 25 last year.
Negroponte has his work cut out for him in getting the disparate elements of his domain to stop acting like competitive power centers. Especially the power center named Donald Rumsfeld, who has expressed concerns about outside control of the Pentagon's intelligence budget -- which represents 80 percent of the $40 billion total budgeted for intelligence.
X Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.