Negroponte and the CIA’s Eclipse

Since the founding of the CIA in 1947, it has been under attack, mainly from the right. Although left-center charges that the CIA has engineered coups against democratically-elected governments and trained death squads have received more public attention, a phalanx of right-center forces have been the CIA’s most implacable foes.

For more than five decades, the militarists and right-wing ideologues have charged that the U.S. government’s intelligence apparatus, led by the CIA, has downplayed the national security threats posed by the Soviet Union, China, and "rogue states" such as Iraq, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Libya, and Syria.

Through the decades of the Cold War and into the 1990s and first Bush administration, the hawks and conservative ideologues have complained that the CIA and other intelligence agencies, along with the State Department, are bureaucracies overrun, variously, with liberals, "pinkos," communists, anti-American internationalists, and Arabists.

According to the hawks, the CIA and other liberal strongholds in government have distorted their "threat assessments" of U.S. real and potential enemies. In the view of the right-wing’s intelligence reformers, the goal of intelligence is not truth but victory. What high administration officials and leading Republicans in Congress consider to be "good intelligence" is what the intelligence hawks call "strategic intelligence."

Intelligence reformers on the right can point to two major achievements in their campaign to seize command of the government’s intelligence apparatus. First was the appointment of Porter Goss (R-FL), the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a longtime ally of Vice President Cheney, to head the CIA and direct its reform. Second was the nomination of John Negroponte to be the first Director of National Intelligence (DNI).

The Negroponte nomination, preceded by that of Goss, signaled the end of the CIA’s dominant position among the government’s 15 intelligence agencies. A diplomat with a four-decade history as a ruthless and highly effective foreign policy operative, Negroponte has most recently served as the ambassador to Iraq. Negroponte, who received quick Senate confirmation for his positions in Iraq and at the UN, can count on bipartisan support for his latest nomination.

As a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act passed by Congress in late 2004, the newly created office of DNI – with a staff of 500 – will exercise oversight over the budgets of the diverse intelligence agencies.

As the government’s first national intelligence director, John Negroponte has proved an adept provider and user of strategic intelligence over the past four decades. Negroponte, 65, comes well prepared to his new position, after having served as a junior officer in Vietnam during the war, and as ambassador to the Philippines, Honduras, Mexico, the United Nations, and most recently Iraq.

Since the mid-1960s Negroponte has moved around the globe doing whatever is required to further what successive U.S. administrations have defined as U.S. economic interests and national security – including such diverse roles as advising the puppet U.S. government in South Vietnam during the war, supervising the Reagan administration use of Honduras as its logistical center for the counterinsurgency and counterrevolutionary campaigns in Central America, ensuring good U.S.-Mexico relations during the NAFTA negotiations, managing relations with UN Security Council members in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, and overseeing U.S. nation-building and counterinsurgency operations in the lead-up to the Iraq elections in January 2005.

Critics charge that Negroponte has – both as a member of the National Security Council and during his various ambassadorships – covered up damaging information so as to further bad policies. Melvin Goodman, a former CIA official, warned: "Negroponte is tough enough. The question is: Is he independent enough?" Referring to his history of covering up human rights abuses in Honduras, Goodman said: "I think the role of intelligence is telling truth to power" and then Negroponte’s appointment "doesn’t fit."

The nomination of Negroponte as DNI comes at a time when new CIA chief Goss has signaled that he intends to rid the agency of those who do not fall into line with Bush administration policies in the Middle East and elsewhere, leading some high officials to leave the agency and to widespread morale problems. In the view of one former intelligence official, "The CIA is a wounded gazelle on the African plain. It’s a pile of bleached bones."

Negroponte is not an ideologue, and certainly not a neoconservative. Since the 1960s Ambassador Negroponte has earned a reputation as a ruthless and determined political operative who always gets the job done – however "dirty" or undiplomatic. Unlike most of President Bush’s foreign policy team, Negroponte has no direct connections with the network of conservative policy institutes, think tanks, or foundations that have set the administration’s foreign and domestic policy agenda.

Not a theorist or strategist, Negroponte instead is commonly regarded as a pragmatic realist with decidedly hawkish inclinations. Negroponte has throughout his career maintained a low public profile despite his high-profile positions – rarely writing or speaking about U.S. foreign or military policy, apart from diplomatically worded statements issued by his office. Ever the flexible diplomat, Negroponte has proved comfortable in adopting whatever foreign policy language – from idealist to realist – is deemed most appropriate and effective for the job he has been assigned.

As a practitioner of "strategic intelligence," Negroponte for four decades has focused not on truth but on victory. Typical of other hawks, Negroponte blames the defeat of South Vietnam on the liberals and moderates in Washington – not on any misguided notion of U.S. national security or self-deception by the "war party" in U.S. government.

But Negroponte has presided over numerous short-term victories, such as deceiving the world about Iraq’s purported ties with terrorism and its mass destruction weapons, crushing the leftist guerrilla and popular movements in Central America in the 1980s, and implementing NAFTA and the "Washington Consensus" in Mexico. Problem is that they were Pyrrhic victories at best. Any intelligence worth its name would better describe Negroponte’s history of representing U.S. interests as a series of wrong turns, dead ends, and deadly collisions.

Read more by Tom Barry