John Negroponte, outgoing US ambassador to Iraq, “will have the authority to order the collection of new intelligence, to ensure the sharing of information among agencies, and to establish common standards for the intelligence community’s personnel.”
This was how President George W. Bush, at a White House news briefing Thursday, February 17, introduced the new National Intelligence Director, a post created to oversee all 15 American intelligence agencies on the advice of the Sept. 11 inquiry commission.
Bush elaborated on the new man’s functions:
“It will be John’s responsibility to determine the annual budgets for all national intelligence agencies and offices and to direct how these funds are spent. Vesting these in a single official who reports directly to me will make our intelligence efforts better coordinated, more efficient and more effective.”
Negroponte’s deputy was named at the National Security Agency director, Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden.
Assuming that all these objectives come to pass and the entire intelligence establishment functions henceforth in perfect coordination, does this mean that American clandestine agencies will be better able to penetrate al Qaeda? Pre-empt new attacks on the United States? Prevent the terrorist organization from laying hands on biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear weapons? Catch Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zuwahiri?
Will the reformed intelligence machine find a way to infiltrate the Iraqi guerrilla groups? Put a stop to political assassinations like that of Rafiq Hariri (whose regional impact some Middle East observers compare to the Sadat murder in October 1981)?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counterintelligence experts answer all these questions in the negative.
In mid-2004, the war against al Qaeda and hunt for bin Laden hit the doldrums. What happened was that the single US intelligence source on the jihadist terror group, President Pervez Musharraf, had reached the limit of Pakistan’s ability to deploy troops for ransacking their hideouts in the wild tribal districts of the Afghan border. Any further action would have led to Pakistan’s destabilization under threat of civil war.
The year 2003 during which al Qaeda chiefs like Abu Zubaidah and Sheikh Mohammed were captured was a dim memory. Since then, America has not taken custody of a single commander from the young generation in charge of terrorist operations for the past two years.
Global terror war is becalmed
The result is that the campaign against global terror – which focuses mainly on intelligence – is virtually becalmed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir, while the terrorists are on the march in the Middle East and Persian Gulf – Iraq, Egypt, Oman, Kuwait, to name a few examples.
Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Intelligence Committee this week: “Overwhelming majorities in Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia believe the US has a negative policy towards the Arab world.”
On Iraq, he observed that the insurgency is now mounting an average of 60 attacks per day, up from 25 last year. Attacks on Iraq’s election day reached 300.”
Clearly, as Negroponte must know very well, US intelligence gains in Iraq are declining notwithstanding the successful general election.
In the second half of the 1990s, after Aldrich Ames and Peter Hanssen were exposed as long-running Russian spies, special panels submitted findings on the performance and shortcomings of US counterintelligence. The flaws exposed did not derive from systemic or bureaucratic faults. It was seen that the creation and training of a force of thousands of agents capable of penetrating enemy groups in changing conditions depended not only on recruiting the right manpower but on a radical reform of the culture governing American’s 15 intelligence agencies.
The US president betrayed a faint appreciation of this difficulty when he said at his Thursday briefing: “Listen, this is going to take a while to get a new culture in place, a different way of approaching the budget process. That’s why I selected John. He’s a diplomat…”
All the same, while good diplomacy will help a plethora of intelligence agencies and their directors work together productively, this is not exactly the attribute field agents require to gain acceptance and reach an elusive enemy in the wild badlands of Hindu Kush, Kurdistan or the Najran peaks dividing Saudi Arabia from Yemen.