Washington Post intelligence reporter Dana Priest was online Friday, Feb. 18, at Noon ET to discuss the latest news in national security and intelligence.
John D. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, was nominated by President Bush yesterday to be the first director of national intelligence who would oversee the nation's 15 spy agencies. The goal is for a unified intelligence community and Negroponte would serve as the principal adviser to the president on intelligence matters.
(The Washington Post)
Read the story:Relationship With Bush Will Be Key (Post, Feb. 18)
Dana Priest covers intelligence and wrote "The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace With America's Military" (W.W. Norton). The book chronicles the increasing frequency with which the military is called upon to solve political and economic problems.
A transcript follows.
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Dana Priest: Hello everyone. Let's begin!
Since the US Envoy in Syria has been recalled, it would appear that possible U.S. military action may be on the way. Is that a possibility?
Dana Priest: I just don't think that's likely any time soon. What kind of military option would they undertake? Not pinprick strikes (on what, and for what purpose). Not larger scale bombing (same questions). An all-out invasion? The administration is having a tough time finding enough troops to send to Iraq. I don't see it.
John Negroponte has no experience in the intelligence field, except his dealings with intelligence people at the embassy level. It seems to me that he will be dominated by Porter Goss, which is what I think Bush had in mind in the first place. Negroponte was the third choice and the reasons the first two refused could be the point I made above, will they really have any power or will it be business as usual, Cheney/Rove telling GWB what to do and having a loyal lackey follow the orders? What do you think about this?
Dana Priest: I don't really agree with most of it. He's never been part of the intel community, that's true. But besides "consuming" intel as an ambassador, he worked as Gen. Powell's deputy at the NSC for 18 months. Saw/used looks of intel in that job and worked with the CIA. I definitely disagree that Goss will have the upper hand. I don;t think that's anything Goss wants. On taking directions from Cheney, that's more likely since Cheney was deep in the selection process and still, I believe, remains a formidable force in foreign affairs, behind the scene.
Would you agree that perhaps the greatest challenge for the new secretary is going to be sitting down with the president to discuss what his (president's) expectations are. Then, the challenge will come when both come to an agreement on expectations. The key is clarity on the president's part and receipt of that clarity on the new secretary's part. With this process solidified, everything else will automatically fall into place.
Dana Priest: That's very important but I doubt it will all solidify as you suggest. There will be others clamoring for the president's time, and they have more information than Negroponte at the moment and, like DOD secretary Rumsfeld, more clout. It would help if the president had a vision of how this will work. I don't think he does yet, that's why he's asked his other blue ribbon panel on WMD to give him recommendations for implementing this reform.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
Your interview with Melissa Boyle Mahle was very interesting. Her comments echo the Richard Clarke, Michael Scheuer, Brent Scowcroft train of thought that Iraq was a strategic blunder of epic proportion. How well was her book received by the new team at Langley do you suppose?
Dana Priest: I'm not sure, but I don't see many top officials inside the administration admitting to "strategic blunders." That's only from everyone else--the people who have to go into the field and make this work in Iraq or who see its affects throughout the world on the ground.
How do women figure in the Iraqi insurgency? Have any become well-known?
Dana Priest: There are not any who are well-known. There may have been a couple suicide bombers who were women and I'm sure women, as in every insurgency I can think of, are abetting certain insurgent groups with their ability to move around a little more easily to get food and other supplies. Don't know of any foreigners who are female that have come in.
Just what are the 15 agencies that Negoponte will be overseeing?
Dana Priest: Go to www.cia.gov and click on "intelligence community." there's a list there.
I'm betting that if John Negroponte does his job right and asserts himself ... within a year Porter Goss will be back home in Florida for good. Do you agree? And if so, what happens to all the Hill henchmen Goss brought in with him?
Dana Priest: Not really. I think he'll be staying longer. But to find out why, you'll have to read this weekend's paper....
What does whoever directed the bombings of Shiite mosques on a holiday hope to gain? This is something that I can't figure out.
Dana Priest: Sunni radicals sowing terror really. Religious holiday are often a favored date for extremists because they figure the psychological impact is much greater on their opponents.
Upper Marlboro, Md.:
The Post reported that Mr. Goss stated while speaking to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, "The Iraq conflict, while not a cause of extremism, has become a cause for extremists,". He seems to be stating that our invasion is not a cause of the extremists' response, but that they are simply 'making' it their cause. Is he that oblivious to the effect of the invasion, or is he trying to sound "insightful?"
Dana Priest: I'll like you be the judge. I stared at that sentence--and read it aloud to my colleagues--for a good while before putting it in the paper. Is it a distinction without a difference. I think so, but artfully crafted not to appear as such.
Ahmed Chalabi? Prime Minister of Iraq? How possible is this and how did it happen?
Dana Priest: Simple answer: He's the ultimate survivor and shifting coalitions seem to be his specialty.
Long-time Pentagon client Ahmed Chalabi has emerged as one of the leading contenders for prime minister of Iraq. Doesn't this represent DoD Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's ultimate triumph, for Chalabi was the man most hated by Rumsfeld's chief rivals, former CIA chief George Tenet and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Isn't this one more indication that the Pentagon is now running our foreign policy? And what would having Chalabi at the helm bode for the future of Iraq?
Dana Priest: I don't think so. DOD sort of backed off their support after the investigation of Chalabi began and we haven't learned of any back door help to him for quite sometime. I might be wrong, but I think he achieved this stature himself---he's a phoenix.
Should journalists who cover the military investigate Eason Jordan's claim that an "alarming number of journalists" are being killed in Iraq, supposedly by our own military? Or would such an inquiry be unpatriotic?
Dana Priest: The journalist I know won't decline to investigate a story because the subject may be perceived as unpatriotic. There have been cases in which the military killed journalists and shot at hotels where they were staying. We have reported these stories, and our correspondents in Iraq tried to determine the circumstances surrounding each incident. A question in those inquiries has always been: did someone purposely target the reporter or was it an accident? Let's see if I can get the webmaster to post one of those stories for you. It's been a while, so it might take time to find.
Just how does Mr. Negroponte's position interface with the Department of Homeland Security? Or is that still to be worked out like many other details of the position?
Dana Priest: Great, unanswered question. He would pull intel from DHS and share info with DHS (not personally, but through a couple of the intel fusion centers). But the DHS secretary also briefs the prez on threats, prioritizes his budget according to what he believes those threats are. So how many terrorism-related briefings the prez will get each day seems like its growing by the minute. On paper, he would get briefings by Negroponte, Goss, DHS secretary and FBI director. Could get confusing.
Much of the world's Muslim population believes that the U.S. "arranged" the recent assasination in order to divide and conquer the unity among practitioners of Islam. That the U.S. routinely uses assassination as a tool of statecraft is beyond debate, so it makes sense that we have done it again.
Thanks for your thoughts on this!
Dana Priest: Well, I disagree that the US "routinely uses assassination as a tool of statecraft." After 9-11, the president authorized assassination against certain so-called "high-valued" Al Qaeda targets. There may be another level of Al Qaeda member subject to this as well, but I'm not sure. Heads of state and former heads of state, no. I can't imagine they would be involved in Hariri's death, since it would be contrary to US interests. But, theoretically speaking, to instruct US personnel to do this would require that the president sign a "president finding" to authorize a specific covert action.
Dana, thanks for taking my question. Do you think the outsourcing of our economy overseas will eventually become a national security problem? For example, these countries we outsource to could use the economic weapon against us more efficiently, if a crisis develops.
Dana Priest: Absolutely, but it is not necessarily a threat that could be avoided. Look at China. It's going to become a huge threat to the US superpower status in 15 years, maybe sooner. Whether it becomes an actual national security threat to us is another matter. Some people think so, other not.
On the question of U.S. withdrawal/exit strategy from Iraq, debate/discussion seems again to be stunted. Simply raising the questions -- could we withdraw, how might we do it, when might we not it, what are the possible consequences -- seems unacceptable to both Dems and Reps on the Hill. And unpatriotic or somehow harmful to our troops. In a democracy, aren't we supposed to do that -- debate, disagree, argue? Have we reached a point -- post 9/11 -- where dissent, or opposing views (from the prevailing ones)-- have no place in the discourse?
Dana Priest: No. no. no. Take a look at our editorial page. Take a look at our front page. We're constantly challenging the administration's talking points when they don't jive with reality. And just to be really clear, since a couple questions used the word "unpatriotic:" I think it is patriotic to question the government, even during times of war. That's why the US Constitution builds in so many safeguards for dissent and free expression.
Care to venture a guess on how the presidential tour of Europe will go next week? It is a triumphal procession or a conciliatory, open handed excursion?
Dana Priest: Love and kisses is my guess, with some lighthearted moments of self-deprecation.
How large will the support staff directly/indirectly be and how much will this new 'oversight' by Negroponte cost as Director of National Intelligence?
Dana Priest: I think it can go up to--hold your breath--1,400!
Los Angeles, Calif.:
The 9/11 Commission really appears to have been knee-capped by the Bush Administration, and later by holdouts in Congress. I thought the whole idea of having a national intelligence director was to have someone who could tell truth to power. Negroponte sure doesn't seem like that type of cat to me.
Dana Priest: That's a succinct way to look at it. The idea, though, was always unrealistic. Why would a president, a political person, really want someone to 'speak truth' to his power? Sounds good on paper. Just doesn't work that way in practice.
How credible are the charges linking John Negroponte to the human rights abuses in Honduras in the 1980's? Is there evidence that he knew about such abuses and chose to ignore them?
Dana Priest: Yes. See the excellent series by the Baltimore Sun on this matter. I'll see if I can get it posted. Well worth the reading.
In your article in today's Post about the Negroponte appointment, you write that he must work implementing legislation that "is vaguely written."
Wasn't it the intent of the Intel Reform bill to clarify and specify roles and responsibilities amongst the various intelligence organizations?
In what ways does the Intel Reform legislation fail to do that, and in what ways or in what important areas is it "vague" that will cause Amb. Negroponte problems?
Dana Priest: I mentioned a couple of them in the article today. Who briefs the prez, who prepares briefing, who really overseas counterterrorism ops (used to be CIA director only), where the single point where all relevant info comes together. how does the CIA's counterterrorism center now relate to the new National Counterterrorism Center on data sharing and operational questions....i could go on and on.
Dana Priest: Lots of great questions. I'm joining Gwen Ifill tonight on PBS's Washington Week to continue this conversation. Until next week...