"Contrary to the bland stories in The New York Times and Washington Post of Friday, Negroponte did not go voluntarily to State from his job as director of intelligence. In fact, there was tremendous administration pressure to get him out of his current job. The chief cause of the quarrel involved Negroponte’s balking at at request from Vice President Cheney to increase domestic collection by the National Security Agency on U.S. citizens.
Negroponte flatly refused, Cheney bridled, and from then on the pressure built to get rid of him. (The White House did not return phone calls, but there is nothing new is that.)
The Bush people, chiefly Cheney and the president, were already annoyed by the fact that the Negroponte group has been busy producing drafts of reports that predict utter disaster in Iraq and which are utterly opposed to any increase of troops. Cheney and Bush both flared in wrath over this. Of course, intelligence is simply evaluated information. Its purpose is to help inform decisions by policymakers, as Pat as so often pointed out. But this this administration perceives objectivity as a inadequate commitment or as an absence of complete loyalty.
The new national director of intelligence Adm. "Mike" McMConnell, has my sources at NSA tearing their hair out. In the view of some very sharp analysts there he was "among the worst directors this agency ever had," in the words of one.
But the rift over increased domestic surveillance was the real reason Negroponte was forced out. I am frankly shocked by seasoned reporters at the NYT who would swallow statements such as Negroponte was never comfortable being a spy and therefore wanted to return to being a diplomat. That is like the Steeler’s coach saying he is resigning to spend more time with his family.
Rice, of course, has been looking for a deputy since last June when Zoellick resigned to go to Goldman Sachs. She first asked for Nick Burns, a very canny and experienced guy and that request was squashed by Cheney. Burns will resign, I’m told. She asked for Phil Zoellick who is her special advisor and that went nowhere. She finally negotiated with Bush first and then Cheney and got approval for Negroponte. She can use his expertise on the Middle East.
One further note.
Regarding Cheney’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia. Cheney went there to get the Wahabis to start ratcheting up actions against the Hizbullah in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. Saudi relations with Syria have cooled dramatically since the Hariri murder. As senior CIA officials told me in 2001, Hariri was a Saudi agent for a long time. But one former CIA official told me that Saudi police the other day arrested a man because he put up Nasrallah’s picture up on his wall. What CIA officials I talked to see is a major shift in the terrain — a growing region-wide alliance between the Sunnis that will act as a counter to the growing power of the Shia thanks to the mindless U.S. backing of them Iraq.
My sources on this are excellent — 8.5s out of 10s.