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Official: New Agency Has Improved US Intelligence Gathering

The director of national intelligence says he has moved aggressively over the past year to improve American intelligence collection and analysis. The post of national intelligence chief was created one year ago to reform U.S. intelligence, following several glaring failures. There has been criticism about whether creating that job has really had any impact on intelligence performance.

In a rare public speech, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte said his office has made substantial progress in improving U.S. intelligence.

Negroponte said information sharing among agencies has improved to ensure that the intelligence lapses of recent years - in particular the failure to uncover the September 11th, 2001, terrorist plot - are not repeated.

"Compared to the situation that existed on or before 9/11, we have come a long, long way, in terms of moving information from right to left, across the horizon of the intelligence community," he said.

The post of director of national intelligence (DNI) was created by Congress one year ago, following the 9/11 intelligence failure and the faulty intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which have never been found. Negroponte is the first person to hold the job.

The key requirement of the job is to coordinate the 15 different, and often competing, agencies that collectively make up the U.S. intelligence community. Negroponte says critical information can now get to people who need to take action on it.

"I'm satisfied that, if we, for example, that, if we obtain, say, a critical piece of intelligence in Waziristan on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that relates to some threat that might be developing somewhere in the United States, or in Western Europe, you can be sure that that information is getting to the people who need to know it right away," he added.

Negroponte says intelligence collection and analysis have both markedly improved to respond to what he says are the two key threats to the United States, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.

But critics say creating the job does not address the real problems of the intelligence community. Larry Wilkerson, who was Colin Powell's chief of staff when Powell was secretary of state, tells VOA, all it did was create another layer of government bureaucracy.

"What we've seen, of course, is not major changes," he said. "We've seen just another layer added, in the National Director of Intelligence, now occupied by Ambassador Negroponte, and the staff that he has accumulated. And, frankly, I don't see that that affords us the kind of change we need, dramatic change, in order to repair what is a broken intelligence apparatus, particularly at the CIA."

Officials say Negroponte has asked for some 1,500 job slots and the money to fill them. Negroponte, who has previously served as a U.S. ambassador, most recently in Iraq, defended the size of his staff, saying he needs them to carry out his mission.

"Intelligence reform has not been a theory-based experiment, or exercise, in bureaucratic bloat. Government programs require government officials to implement them," explained Mr. Negroponte. "My last three overseas embassies were larger than the office of the director of national intelligence."

Mr. Negroponte pointed out that his office also manages two new intelligence enterprises, the National Counter-Terrorism Center and the National Counter-Proliferation Center.