By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 21, 2006
Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte defended his first year on the job yesterday by saying he has made progress in integrating the work of the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, adding it will take time "remaking a loose confederation into a unified enterprise."
Negroponte spoke at the National Press Club, after recent criticism in Congress and elsewhere that his growing organization is threatening to become another troublesome layer of bureaucracy atop the network of intelligence agencies, which collectively spend about $44 billion a year and involve about 100,000 people in the United States and abroad.
Negroponte said he has instituted "institutional innovations, most of which are system-wide procedural improvements" designed to "optimize the community's total performance."
His talk capped a week in which he and top associates have given interviews aimed at enhancing the public's understanding of the complex restructuring of U.S. intelligence agencies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the failure to accurately assess Saddam Hussein's weapons programs. Congress created his office in late 2004 to oversee and improve coordination of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, including those at the Pentagon.
One of the few specific actions Negroponte cited was his decision in July to change funding of the multibillion-dollar Future Imagery Architecture program, which involves the next generation of spy satellites. Negroponte moved the basic funding for the classified program from the Boeing Co. to Lockheed Martin Corp.
Without mentioning the companies or the details, Negroponte said that, after study, he "decided we were on the wrong track" and that his decision "broke a lengthy impasse and provided the intelligence community an imagery way ahead."
The report of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released this month had focused on that move. The panel described it as a "tough decision" that had "certain positive aspects" but "one disadvantage" that may lead to "future gaps in capability." Legislatively the committee, in its classified annex, apparently put forward its own approach that it said will likely cause "some discomfort within the intelligence community."
"He may have made the decision, but it sounds like the House intelligence committee may have other ideas on this subject," said John Pike, a specialist in satellite programs and director of GlobalSecurity.org, an organization that conducts research on security issues and works to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons.
In contrast to some other administration officials, Negroponte gave a low-key description of the threat caused by Iran's recent statements about having begun nuclear enrichment, which could be a major step toward building a bomb. Negroponte used the word "troublesome," saying there is additional concern because of statements made by Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Overall, however, he said that Tehran is "a number of years off . . . probably the next decade" before it will have enough fissile material for a bomb, and "we need to keep this in perspective."
The only light moment came in response to Negroponte's statement that agencies are sharing intelligence more. Someone asked what he would do with a Pentagon official who stamps documents "for military eyes only." The usually serious former ambassador quickly responded, "I'd take away his stamp," gaining laughter for the first time from his rather passive audience. There was no follow-up about whether such a stamp exists.