White House confirms primacy of CIA station chiefs, ending turf war

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 13, 2009

National security adviser James L. Jones has decided that CIA chiefs of station in countries across the world will continue also to represent the office of the director of national intelligence, ending a brief turf battle between the heads of the two spy organizations, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

At issue was a May directive by Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, who as head of the 16 agencies that make up the intelligence community, including the CIA, asserted that in "rare circumstances," he could select someone other than a CIA station chief to be his representative to foreign governments or international organizations. The directive provided that, in "virtually all cases globally," the representative would be a CIA station chief and that, before the appointment of anyone else, CIA Director Leon E. Panetta and the local U.S. ambassador would be consulted.

Panetta and former CIA director Michael V. Hayden balked at the idea that someone other than a top CIA official could be considered the senior U.S. intelligence representative in a country. They argued that it could confuse foreign leaders and their intelligence agencies, with whom the CIA station chiefs interact regularly. Introducing another, non-CIA intelligence officer could disrupt the normal chain of command in an embassy where the CIA station chief also coordinates all clandestine and covert actions in the country, they said.

"The White House has made its decision," a U.S. intelligence official said Thursday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss administration decisions. The primacy of CIA station chiefs is "consistent from one American embassy to the next" and "precludes any confusion over who speaks for U.S. intelligence abroad," he added.

The interagency dust-up over the past month illustrates the problems that have arisen as Blair continues to explore areas where his four-year-old organization can exercise its authority. However, agreement was also reached Thursday on some broader issues that reinforce Blair's position, DNI spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said. "This agreement, which addresses several key authorities, reinforces the DNI's important mission of advancing an intelligence community team that is greater than the sum of its parts," she said.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company