The nomination of John D. Negroponte as national director of intelligence this month signaled the end of the CIA's nearly 60-year run as the undisputed center of power and influence in the secret world of intelligence.
From its Cold War heyday of spy-vs.-spy confrontation with the Soviet Union, to its rebirth as the lead strike force against al Qaeda's leadership, the CIA earned its standing not from its size, budget or weapons systems, but from the sway its directors held over presidents and the legend of its covert operations overseas.
CIA Director Porter J. Goss and others in his agency would be under Negroponte's leadership.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta -- AP)
Today, as a result of a new law reorganizing the intelligence community, the CIA no longer has primary standing among the 15 U.S. intelligence agencies. And its last director, cigar-chewing George J. Tenet -- one in a line of larger-than-life leaders with close ties to the Oval Office -- has been replaced by an anti-Tenet figure, Porter J. Goss, a man of few words and low profile who CIA employees say has yet to annunciate his vision for the agency.
"It does appear the CIA will not occupy that same premier position it had," said Peter Earnest, executive director of the International Spy Museum and a former CIA spy. "It's the end of a chapter."
The CIA has occupied the pinnacle in the intelligence world, in part, because its chief held two titles: CIA director and the broader director of central intelligence. The latter made him responsible for managing efforts of not only the CIA but also the intelligence offices in the Department of Defense and other parts of the federal government. In recent years, it was the director of central intelligence who briefed the president in the morning, and in the afternoon, wearing his second hat as CIA director, he sent spies on missions and executed covert operations.
"The face time," said Earnest, allowed the CIA director to understand what the president was most interested in, "to hear the president's own requirements. It was invaluable."
Now, Negroponte will oversee the CIA and 14 other agencies that spend an estimated $40 billion a year on intelligence -- a reorganization by Congress largely in response to recommendations by the 9/11 commission, which said lack of coordination among those offices played a role in the U.S. failure to thwart the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Not only will Negroponte replace the CIA director as the most important voice the president hears on intelligence matters each day, but other agencies, notably the Pentagon and the FBI, are seeking to take over some of the CIA's traditional case officer duties. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has tasked the military to send highly classified units into the field to collect human intelligence, using newly earned congressional authority to recruit foreign agents when it is helpful.
The FBI wants to replace the CIA's role in recruiting U.S.-based foreign officials to spy for the United States when they return to their homes. It is also trying to mimic the CIA's use of corporate contacts to gain information from overseas business travelers.
With the President's Daily Briefing soon to be in Negroponte's hands, intelligence officials said they expect dozens of CIA analysts who produce it to move over to his office. So will the National Intelligence Council, the nation's top intelligence advisory panel, which produces National Intelligence Estimates as well as analysis of long-term trends.
The CIA's science and technology branch may lose clout as well, intelligence experts said. Already the major technological capabilities -- namely satellite imagery and electronic espionage -- reside outside the CIA. Experts say Negroponte's deputy-to-be, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, wants to keep a major hand in technological issues. Currently, Hayden heads the National Security Agency, which manages electronic espionage.
Critics of the CIA's inability to gather more intelligence on al Qaeda -- and of its high-profile, high-stakes failure to accurately assess Iraq's weapons programs before the war -- say these changes are long overdue.
"The CIA is no longer the favorite child, which will be good for them," said one congressional official, who is not authorized to be quoted by name. "They will have to play on a level playing field. When you are in charge too long, you tend to ossify, then get comfortable. They need to get uncomfortable."
But many CIA veterans, current and retired, say the agency's diminished role comes at a vulnerable time for the institution. Goss and his top aides, former Capitol Hill staffers who once worked at the CIA, have still not settled nerves at the agency after a round of high-profile personnel shuffles that left some employees distrustful of the leadership that took over from Tenet in September.