National Security Watch: Negroponte collects more power
The reorganization of federal intelligence efforts announced this week is potentially historic in scope, but a host of institutional obstacles remains, and the success of the initiative is far from assured.
The changes were revealed Wednesday in a memo from President Bush to senior cabinet officials. Chief among them was creation of a National Security Service at the FBI, which will bring the bureau's counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and intelligence divisions together under a single roof, headed by a senior official. But that official, and, indeed, the entire new service, will have two bosses: FBI Director Robert Mueller and the new director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, who was clearly a winner in the reshuffling of responsibilities. Negroponte will now have authority over not only bureau agents and executives but also over the FBI's $3 billion intelligence budget. As part of the reorganization, Bush also announced that the Justice Department will consolidate several intelligence and counterterrorism branches into a new national security division, and he created a National Counter Proliferation Center that will work to fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
In announcing these changes, the president was accepting many of the recommendations made three months ago by a special intelligence commission headed by former Sen. Charles Robb and Judge Laurence Silberman. The job of implementing the recommendations was given to one of the administration's rising stars, homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend [A skillful survivor (12/6/04)]. "I expected this whole thing to be much harder than it actually was," Townsend told U.S. News. "The president really set the tone here, and he made it very clear to all of us his expectations and how much he appreciated the fine work of the commission. The different components of the intelligence community knew what was expected of them here, and they set forward to really do the best they could to help us meet the goals outlined by the president."
But recent history suggests that there may be more than a few bumps left in the road. The FBI has long guarded its independence and has often been criticized for reticence in sharing both authority and information. The 9/11 commission cited numerous failings by the bureau, and the FBI's efforts to transform itself into a proactive agency focused on preventing terrorist attacks, rather than prosecuting crimes after the fact, have been fraught with problems [Fixing the FBI (3/28/05)].
Many bureau agents and Justice Department officials were reported to have opposed the changes announced this week, but the president was clearly unmoved. Bush's memo makes it clear that he wants to put real authority in Negroponte's hands. The imprimatur of the boss will surely help, but no one should doubt that the new intelligence czar still has his work cut out for him.