Intelligence Office Gives Progress Report

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 14, 2006

The 16 agencies in the U.S. intelligence community are "taking a bit more direction" from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, created last year to oversee and coordinate their work, and criticism of the new agency in Congress and elsewhere is "more about velocity and not about direction," its second-in-command, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, said yesterday.

"I have confidence in this enterprise," said Hayden, the deputy director of national intelligence, who met with reporters in an unusual, on-the-record, two-hour session with eight of his senior associates to discuss the agency's first year.

After the intelligence failures over the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, Congress created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, now held by John D. Negroponte, to be the president's principal intelligence adviser. The office was charged with supervising the intelligence budget, ensuring that agencies coordinate their activities and share information, and ensuring that reports to policymakers and Congress are objective and timely.

Although most of the reporters focused their questions on Iran's nuclear program, Hayden and his team wanted to discuss the processes they have established and to answer criticisms that the office's growing staff has become a new layer of bureaucracy that slows intelligence decision making.

Hayden said the office is coordinating the various agencies, not sending orders down. He said its role is more like that of a coach on the sidelines of a soccer game than that of a football quarterback calling the plays. But one senior intelligence official, told of Hayden's metaphor, said, "In children's soccer, all the kids run to the ball, and that's somewhat like what is still going on in the community."

Hayden and his colleagues made it clear that they believe their intelligence on Iran's nuclear program reflects the lessons learned from Iraq, including being clear about the reliability of sources and encouraging skepticism about other analysts' views.

They repeated their belief that Tehran is years away from having nuclear weapons capability and said they are awaiting confirmation of Iran's claim this week that it had successfully enriched uranium. Kenneth C. Brill, director of the new National Counterproliferation Center, a division of the intelligence office, recalled that Iran had previously claimed to have multiple centrifuges for enrichment, and "that turned out to be a Potemkin village."

Patrick F. Kennedy, the director of management for the intelligence office, said its staff will have 1,539 members next year. Almost two-thirds of the current members are from staffs that the new office absorbed, and the number of new personnel is below the 500 authorized by Congress, Kennedy said.

Many staff members will come together for the first time next week when they move into offices on the top two floors of the new Defense Intelligence Agency office building at Bolling Air Force Base.

Thomas Fingar, who directs the office's analysis activities and is chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said there is new cooperation among analysts, collectors of intelligence and the teams of experts in various agencies in handling specific issues. He did not directly answer whether an analysis had been done of the impact of a military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Asked about charges that Bush and other policymakers had misused intelligence in past public statements, Fingar said the "fact-checking exercise" involved in reviewing speeches has been "ratcheted up," but "throwing raspberries" -- criticism -- after public pronouncements is "not part of the job."

The officials said the intelligence office has established a National Intelligence Priorities Framework, a three-tiered listing by importance of about 30 intelligence targets, signed by President Bush. They did not provide the classified list but conceded that the top tier includes terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and China.

Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr., the office's deputy in charge of "customer outcomes," said it was the first time a president had signed off on such a document. But several current and former senior intelligence officials said later that both the Clinton and first Bush administrations had similar prioritized lists of intelligence missions.

The officials described one previously unpublicized program that brings together the top ten or so senior science and technology experts in the bigger agencies to find ways to work on common problems. Describing efforts to break down barriers to cooperation, Eric C. Haseltine, who directs the intelligence office's science and technology section, said, "The boulder is moving."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company