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Why Negroponte is a bad choice for good intelligence
By Tom Barry
Global Beat Syndicate
WASHINGTON—Twice over the past four years the U.S. Senate has confirmed John Negroponte for key foreign policy positions—four years ago as UN ambassador and last year as ambassador to Iraq. Most likely, the senate will now approve his appointment as our first director of national intelligence.
Remarkably, the senate has continued to approve Negroponte’s various appointment despite testimony that in the 1980s, as ambassador to Honduras and subsequently as National Security Council member, he misled congress about death squad and drug trafficking operations by the Honduran military and Nicaraguan contras. Senators have also ignored his role in misleading UN Security Council members about Iraq’s alleged ties to the al Qaida terrorists, and Iraq’s weapons program.
In addition, as Washington’s top official in Iraq for the past year, he has ignored human rights abuses and corporate scandals. Instead, he contributed to the delusion that the U.S. military occupation is proceeding as planned.
If he is approved a third time for a high position in the Bush administration (and at this writing he is sailing through his confirmation hearings), Negroponte will surely continue deceiving the U.S. public and congress—as he has done repeatedly since his days a an embassy official in Saigon in the late 1960s.
The Negroponte nomination signals the end of the CIA’s dominant position among the government’s 15 intelligence agencies. It was preceded by 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. 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 have oversight over the budgets of all our intelligence agencies.
For more than five decades, hawks 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.
Throughout the Cold War and into the 1990s and first Bush administration, these militarists and 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 real and potential enemies. In their view, the goal of intelligence is “not truth, but victory.” What current high administration officials and leading Republicans in congress consider to be “good intelligence” is what the intelligence hawks call “strategic intelligence.”
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, supervising the Reagan administration use of Honduras as its logistical center for the counterinsurgency campaigns in Central America, and managing relations with UN Security Council members in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.
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 [those in] power” and thus, Negroponte’s appointment “doesn't fit.”
As a practitioner of “strategic intelligence,” Negroponte for four decades has focused on victory, but not on truth. Typical of other hawks, he 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” then in Washington.
Without question, 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.
But these 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.
If Americans want good intelligence, not manipulated or “strategic intelligence,” Negroponte is the wrong choice to lead a reformed national intelligence apparatus.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Tom Barry, policy director of the International Relations Center (IRC), has written numerous books about U.S. foreign policy, including several on Central America in the 1980s. He is founder of the Foreign Policy In Focus think tank in Washington, D.C.