Hopefully new director not another yesman

CNJ staff

Whether it was a good idea to create the post of director of national intelligence — we were dubious from the start — in John Negroponte, currently ambassador to Iraq, President Bush has named a veteran diplomat and troubleshooter whom most observers give high marks for competence. Whether he will be the kind of director the country — as compared to the administration — needs we will know soon.

It has been two months since intelligence reform was passed, creating the position of director of national intelligence to oversee all 15 of the nation’s intelligence agencies, and some legislators were getting impatient. Negroponte will likely be confirmed quickly, both based on his overall background and, in part, for the successful election in Iraq late last month.

“He is intelligent and personally confident without being full of himself,” said former Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, who headed the National Security Agency from 1985 to 1988. He acknowledged that, lacking personal intelligence community experience, Negroponte “will have some catching up to do. But his experience is at least as useful as spending a career in the D.O. (the CIA’s Directorate of Operations).”

Charles Pena, director of national security studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said that “with Mr. Negroponte’s appointment there are two administration loyalists in the top two intelligence slots. Will they offer unvarnished rather than politicized intelligence information to the president?”

Pena mentioned Syria and Iran as places that some people in the administration have in the American cross-hairs. When the time comes to decide what to do about these two countries, will President Bush get objective information or intelligence subtly shaded to support what underlings believe is his preferred policy?

Gen. Odom believes that Negroponte, perhaps more than any of the other names mentioned, has the personal stature and independence to tell the president what he needs to hear rather than what he wants to hear. We hope he’s right.