January 5, 2007 | WebMemo on National Security and Defense

Negroponte Departs with Intelligence Reform Still a Work in Progress

Ambassador John Negroponte served as the nation's first Director of National Intelligence (DNI). This week he announced his resignation. He leaves the office having implemented the most critical of the reforms proposed by the 9/11 Commission. There is, however, much work to be done to finish the job of creating the intelligence community America needs to face the threats of the 21st century.

Present at the Creation

One of the most crucial observations of the 9/11 Commission was that the agencies and departments that make up the national intelligence community did not adequately coordinate their counterterrorism activities and effectively share information. Acting on the commission's recommendation, Congress created an independent DNI to serve as the senior intelligence advisor to the President and oversee, coordinate, and prioritize the activities of the 16 member agencies of the national intelligence community. Ambassador Negroponte has performed yeoman's service establishing the infrastructure, staff, and policies to get the job done. The work of the program office responsible for implementing the Information Sharing Environment (ISE) was particularly laudable.

It took, however, at least a decade to build the intelligence services needed to fight the Cold War. It will take time to finish the job of building the capability America needs for the 21st century, as well. The new DNI will have a lot left to do.

Rethinking Reforms

One of the first tasks for the new DNI should be considering whether Congress got all of the reforms right. For example, the DNI is currently tasked with overseeing a hodgepodge of activities that includes the ISE and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). Having the DNI oversee such operational activities distracts from the position's principle tasks of serving as an independent presidential advisor and community coordinator and adds more bureaucracy to the office. Such activities may be better managed by a lead agency from the intelligence community.

An Unfinished Agenda

The DNI must also dedicate renewed energy to areas where the intelligence community must simply do better. These include improving counterintelligence programs, the use of open source intelligence, professional development of the intelligence workforce, and human intelligence programs.

Next Steps

What is required now to move intelligence reform forward is not more legislation from Congress, but a sober and comprehensive assessment of what has been done so far and what should be the priorities for the community over the next two years.

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow