A memo signed last week by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld gave one of his top aides authority over efforts to improve intelligence operations within the department, but it is being interpreted by some senior intelligence officials as a challenge to the new director of national intelligence, a position John D. Negroponte has been nominated to fill.
In the memo, Rumsfeld said his goal is to "forge a close and productive relationship between the Department of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence," or DNI. To that end, he designated the office of Undersecretary for Defense Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone as the "lead office to synchronize" ongoing Pentagon efforts and "to develop and manage the implementation plan for intelligence community reform legislation."
Pentagon officials said the memo was an attempt to help facilitate the work of the DNI, but some officials said it could allow Cambone to interfere with the new intelligence chief by, for example, limiting the information he gets from the Pentagon.
Congress created the DNI position in December as part of a reorganization aimed at improving the performance and coordination of U.S. intelligence agencies. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq awaiting Senate confirmation as DNI, will coordinate the efforts of the CIA and 14 other intelligence offices, including having final budgetary and management authority over three major Pentagon-based agencies -- the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office.
Questions about how and whether Negroponte will be able to exercise such authority -- and whether the Defense Department or other agencies will move to protect their bureaucratic independence -- were raised last week by President Bush's commission on intelligence reorganization, which warned Bush that "headstrong agencies" will "try to run around -- or over -- the DNI."
Cambone, the Rumsfeld memo said, will integrate all Defense Department reorganization efforts, including plans that touch on resources, acquisition oversight, personnel management, security and the creation of any new national intelligence centers, some of which fall within the DNI's purview.
The secretary's memo concluded by saying that he expects "all DoD [Department of Defense] components will coordinate" with Cambone "on all matters relating to implementation of intelligence reform."
"It's a poke in the eye of the DNI before he takes office," said a senior official in a defense agency who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. "It could let Cambone clear what is told the DNI."
Said a former official with Pentagon connections and past experience in the White House: "It shows what kind of internal fighting the DNI will face with Rumsfeld."
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said yesterday that the memo simply indicates who in the Pentagon would "take the lead" in dealing with the new DNI and his agency and was "not intended" to limit Defense Department units' contact with the DNI. "We need a sure entry point, and our interface in this would be USDI," Whitman said, referring to Cambone's office.
Relations with Rumsfeld, whose department handles 80 percent of the roughly $40 billion spent on intelligence each year, has always been seen as critical to the law that established the DNI as the president's senior intelligence adviser.
In its report, the president's commission on intelligence warned that "the most controversial sections" of the restructuring legislation "were those relating to the relationship between the DNI and the Secretary of Defense." The panel said "it won't be easy" for the DNI to provide leadership to the "intelligence components of the Defense Department." The commission noted several recent Rumsfeld initiatives in the intelligence field and said that "in some cases we believe steps should be taken to ensure that the Defense Department's intelligence efforts do not undermine the new DNI's ability to manage the intelligence community."
The panel pointed to changes that enable combat commanders to assign work to national collection agencies directly, outside any organization established by the DNI.