Negroponte: Unfit to Lead

By Corn, David | The Nation, March 14, 2005 | Go to article overview

Negroponte: Unfit to Lead


Corn, David, The Nation


"You have to ask, Who would want this job?" So said a former senior CIA official referring to the new post of director of national intelligence, to which George W. Bush has appointed John Negroponte, the current US Ambassador in Iraq. The job--to oversee the sprawling collection of fifteen intelligence agencies known in Washington as the "intelligence community"--was created by Congress last year when it passed an intelligence reorganization bill in belated response to the 9/11 attacks. The wisdom of the legislation was debatable, but the DNI position was compromised from the start, partly because the Pentagon, which claims 80 percent of the overall intelligence budget of $40 billion-plus, did not fancy the creation of an intelligence czar who might tell the military what to do. The DNI slot ended up with plenty of responsibility--e.g., insuring that the spies do a smart and effective job--but limited authority. The DNI, without any budget power, will have to depend upon his sway at the White House to implement any serious changes. This is not the ideal relationship. A DNI should be somewhat independent of the White House--and its biases and assumptions. For example, it seems that CIA chief George Tenet tried too hard to please the Bush White House regarding those nonexistent WMDs in Iraq. He should have challenged and fact-checked Bush's pronouncements. Instead, he provided faulty ammunition (which Bush then misused). A DNI who can function in Washington's bureaucratic wars only if the White House is providing ground fire might be less likely to confront his patron. No wonder several prominent players turned down this mission-impossible job. But not Negroponte.

Negroponte has been a loyal Bush foot soldier, serving as ambassador to the United Nations (and pitchman for the phony Iraq-has-WMDs argument) before heading off to Baghdad, but he is unsuited for this position. The ultimate goal of the DNI is to guarantee that the President and other policy-makers receive unvarnished and valuable information. Yet there is evidence that Negroponte, when he was Ronald Reagan's ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, suppressed intelligence that was politically inconvenient. At the time, the Reagan Administration was relying on the Honduran government and military in its not-too-secret war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. After Congress ended aid to the anti-Sandinista contras, the Reagan Administration essentially bribed the Honduran government into providing further assistance to the contras in what was arguably an illegal deal. (For helping the contras, the Hondurans received economic aid that had been withheld and military supplies.) Throughout this episode, Negroponte acted as the boss of the contra operations in Honduras, and he participated in the covert quid pro quo arrangement. …

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