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A Sudden Departure From CIA Headquarters

John Negroponte
by Shaun Waterman
UPI Homeland and National Security Editor
Washington (UPI) Jan 05, 2007
The sudden departure of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte to the State Department and his replacement by retired Adm. Michael McConnell risks creating a leadership vacuum in his new office, says the incoming chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The news of Negroponte's intended move to become deputy secretary of state, confirmed Friday by President Bush, comes as the post of his own deputy has been vacant since May, when retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden became director of the CIA -- and provoked alarm on both sides of the aisle in Congress.

"It is not acceptable for the top two jobs to be vacant at the same time," said Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., incoming chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in a statement.

Calling himself "deeply troubled" by the news, and warning of a "void of leadership" at the top of the management structure that is supposed to coordinate the work of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, Rockefeller said he had approached Senate Foreign Relations Committee incoming Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., with a view to ensuring that committee did not confirm Negroponte in his new job before his successor was confirmed to take over his current post.

Biden's committee would have to schedule hearings for Negroponte to be confirmed in his new post; Rockefeller's committee would have to hold hearings on his successor's confirmation.

The apparent inability of officials to properly choreograph news of Negroponte's departure, which leaked Wednesday afternoon, and the veiled threats from Capitol Hill that the Senate would not allow Negroponte to move on until his successor was confirmed emphasized the degree to which the White House seems to be losing the ability to set the agenda as the administration moves into its final years.

"I will discuss with Sen. Biden a plan to sequence the confirmation hearings to provide swift consideration of both nominations while ensuring that Director Negroponte does not depart prior to the confirmation of his replacement," said Rockefeller.

Biden's office did not return calls seeking comment, but a senior Rockefeller aide said that they had "just contacted" the foreign relations committee, and were hoping to enter into discussions with them soon.

"Before he (Negroponte) leaves," Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the senior Republican on the intelligence committee said, "we must have a new director ... on board because there simply is no deputy to take over."

"A premature departure creates an unneeded vacuum ... at a critical time."

It was not immediately clear who the president might be able to designate as an acting director of national intelligence to fill any gap between Negroponte and his successor given the complex rules on personnel matters.

The nomination of McConnell, a vice-president at Washington business and government consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton, who headed the National Security Agency from 1992 to 1996, if confirmed would inaugurate the first period in U.S. history since WWII when all the major intelligence posts were held by serving or retired military officers, a development that caused concern in some quarters.

"The insistence of the administration to continually nominate career military officials to lead intelligence posts," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich, the senior-most Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, "leads me to question its commitment to including civilian oversight and input in the nation's intelligence community."

Hoekstra said he was "concern(ed) over the growing control of national intelligence by the military."

News of Negroponte's departure overshadowed reports, confirmed to United Press International by a senior Senate Armed Services Committee staffer, that new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has tapped retired Air Force Gen. James Clapper, the recently departed director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or NGA, for the top intelligence post at the Pentagon.

The staffer said that Clapper was "pretty well thought of," and had "tremendous experience" having headed Air Force intelligence and the Defense Intelligence Agency prior to taking the helm at the NGA, which interprets satellite photos and draws maps for the U.S. military.

It remained unclear what role, if any, the Senate Intelligence Committee might play in Clapper's confirmation, said the Rockefeller aide. Clapper's predecessor, Undersecretary for Defense Intelligence Steven Cambone, had met informally with intelligence committee members during his confirmation process, but that was before the intelligence overhaul.

"Whatever arrangements are made they will be collegial," said the aide, noting the close relationship between Rockefeller and Armed Service Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Negroponte's departure comes at a time of growing uncertainty about the effectiveness of the new director of national intelligence. Negroponte, appointed in 2005, was the first in the post designed by Congress as part of its major overhaul of U.S. intelligence in the wake of its failure to predict or prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

But many on Capitol Hill and elsewhere have questions about how effectively Negroponte was able to fulfill Congress' vision of leveraging budgetary, personnel and policy authorities to force the 16 U.S. spy agencies to work together more effectively.

"Director Negroponte deserves credit for building the office from scratch and starting the process of creating a true intelligence community," said Rockefeller. But he added, "His successor will need to accelerate that process in order to realize the vision of the intelligence reform legislation passed two years ago."

"The next director of national intelligence will enter a changing environment in the Congress and the Department of Defense," said incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes. "This individual will have to step in aggressively, and forcefully bring together the 16 Intelligence agencies."

Source: United Press International

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