The nation's primary agency for analyzing terrorist threats and planning counterterrorism operations at home and abroad is waiting for President Bush to name its director and settle whether that person will report directly to the president or go through Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.
The legislation that established the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) requires the organization to begin operations by June 17. The center was established last fall under a presidential executive order.
With that date fast approaching, retired Vice Adm. John Scott Redd, who served as executive director of the Silberman-Robb presidential commission on intelligence, has been most recently mentioned by officials in the intelligence community as the leading candidate for director. If nominated, he would replace John O. Brennan, a longtime CIA official who has been serving as acting NCTC director. It is a Senate-confirmed post.
Under the law and the executive order, NCTC is to be the central organization for analyzing and integrating all foreign and domestic intelligence on terrorism. It also is to conduct "strategic operational planning" for counterterrorism operations at home and abroad "integrating all elements of national power." Carrying out the operational plans is left to the CIA, the FBI and Defense Department units, along with diplomats and Treasury Department officials where appropriate.
The law, however, requires the NCTC director to report to the president on "planning and progress of joint counterterrorism operations" and to the DNI on NCTC budgets and programs, the center's intelligence analyses and intelligence operations by elements of the intelligence community.
A Congressional Research Service study, released in March, said the split reporting function was adopted, in the words of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), one of the law's authors, because "the strategic operational planning function is for . . . 'the entire Executive Branch -- ranging from the combatant commands to the State Department, to the FBI's Counterterrorism Division to the Department of Health and Human Services to the CIA.' " Some of those areas are "beyond the DNI's jurisdiction," Lieberman said during debate on the legislation.
The CRS study noted that the split-reporting language could cause "potential conflicts between the DNI and the director of NCTC concerning who is the president's primary adviser with respect to joint counterterrorism operational initiatives."
Currently, NCTC has roughly 300 employees from 10 federal agencies, some of whom are on loan, according to the CRS study. Since many of its employees are from the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, which has also sent personnel to help the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and Negroponte's office, there has been concern voiced by some within the agency that the CIA is being drained of experienced people.
"The CIA is very concerned about it. But NCTC is a new agency," created in part to address issues with the CIA's past performance, a former senior counterterrorism official said. "So which [agency] do you think will win?"
"A few dozen analysts have been sent to NCTC and other agencies," a senior intelligence official familiar with the CIA's Counterterrorism Center said yesterday. "But," he added, "we have the operational lead and we don't think it has hurt that cadre."
CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said yesterday: "The CIA is one of the partner agencies that has contributed analysts to the NCTC. The relationship between NCTC and the CIA is one of mutual support."
One reason there appears to be a drain on analysts is that the CIA, the FBI and the Pentagon continue to try to do all the things they did analytically before the NCTC became operational, according to a senior counterterrorism official.
"If we agree that NCTC has taken over part of what other agencies used to do, then we have sufficient numbers to cover the terrorist issue," the official said. "But, they can't build back up to where they used to be; that is turf protection. We all have to be complementary."
He said since the NCTC now does major terrorism assessments for the White House and other policymakers, CIA analysts should focus on data that drives covert operations and clandestine collection. Similarly, he said, FBI analysts should aid agent investigations and Pentagon analysts deal with force protection for military units at home and abroad.
Air Force Gen. Charles F. "Chuck" Wald, deputy commander of U.S. forces in Europe, had been the leading candidate for NCTC director, after it became clear Brennan planned to retire as soon as a permanent appointment was made.
Recently, however, Redd has become the front-runner, based in part on his performance on the presidential commission. He retired from the Navy after 36 years. He commanded the Navy's Fifth Fleet in the Middle East and was the Pentagon's director of strategic plans and policy on the joint staff.
Staff writer Susan B. Glasser contributed to this report.