DNI Covets Historic Home

Navy Hill served as headquarters for the wartime Office of Strategic Services and the CIA.
Navy Hill served as headquarters for the wartime Office of Strategic Services and the CIA. (No Credit Needed)
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 20, 2006

Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte may have his eye on history as he attempts to secure a prime downtown Washington property -- Navy Hill, overlooking the Potomac River -- for his headquarters.

During World War II, the property's gracious Central Building, constructed in 1910, served as the home office for William "Wild Bill" Donovan's Office of Strategic Services. It later became the first headquarters of the CIA, formed in 1947.

Described in a government document as one of the most beautiful secret squares in Washington, 2430 E St. NW is the 13-acre, six-building complex that was originally the site of the Old Naval Observatory, built in 1843. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and contains 19th-century administration buildings and a 1904 statue of Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and surgeon general in the Continental Army during the Revolution.

The buildings, which have been the headquarters for the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery since the late 1800s, are hidden from the roadway by security gates and located within the shadow of the Kennedy Center, just across the street from the State Department.

Although some nostalgia might be involved, Negroponte's purpose just as likely may be to reduce the time he and his top aides spend traveling from Bolling Air Force Base in Southwest Washington, where they temporarily occupy two floors at the newly completed Defense Intelligence Analysis Center building.

One top Negroponte aide has complained that he spends almost half his day in automobiles going to meetings in downtown Washington, on Capitol Hill, or at the White House, the Pentagon or CIA headquarters.

"We have expressed an interest in that property as the possible headquarters for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence," a spokesman for Negroponte said yesterday. "The director has been in contact with the appropriate organizations about that particular property, but no decisions have been made."

It may be a while -- perhaps a year -- before a final decision is made, because there is competition for the property. The State Department, which has employees in some of the buildings, wants to expand there, the D.C. government may want it, and the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery has yet to move out.

Meanwhile, Negroponte's office -- with about 1,700 employees -- has immediate housing decisions to make. Under the 2004 legislation that created it, the DNI was barred from sharing facilities with the headquarters of any intelligence agency after 2008. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has put language in the fiscal 2007 intelligence authorization bill that would remove the 2008 deadline, but that legislation has yet to pass and there is some doubt there will be any authorization bill this year -- as was the case last year.

One plan already underway is to build a DNI annex in the Virginia complex called Liberty II, where the National Counterterrorism Center, part of Negroponte's organization, is located. Even that idea has a snag since the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), has a feud going with the DNI over its size and has threatened to hold up funds for the annex.

And all is not safe at Bolling Air Force Base. When Negroponte's team selected Bolling it expected to get or build a new home, perhaps on the air base. Now the Defense Intelligence Agency wants assurance it will get its two floors back by 2008, a Pentagon official said, because that agency has been forced to extend its leases for space in Arlington that it expected to vacate this year when the new Bolling office was available.

"We all know there is a critical need for secure facilities in this region," the DNI official said, "and our intent is to construct an annex facility at the Liberty II property by early 2008." But, he added, "There is no final determination on what elements [of DNI] would occupy that facility."

As for Potomac Annex, as the buildings on Navy Hill are called, "that property is available to any government agency and it is still an open question as to whether we will get it," the DNI official said.

Getting hold of it, however, may not end the DNI's housing problems. As a National Historic Site, any structural changes, including upgrading, would have to be approved by the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts and the District's State Historic Preservation Office.

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