The new top in redrawn US intelligence

The director of national intelligence, who could be named this week, will try to meld disparate agencies.

The United States is about to get its most powerful spymaster ever - a director of national intelligence charged with control and coordination of 15 government agencies involved in espionage.

The question is, will "most powerful ever" also mean "powerful enough"?

The nation's new intel chief - who could be nominated as early as this week - will pioneer a very tough job, say experts. As the experience of the Department of Homeland Security shows, melding together bureaucracies with different cultures and missions can be a monumental task.

It will take the right kind of person to get the job done. And this individual will need a crucial kind of support: continued White House backup.

"It is a big job," says William Webster, former director of both the CIA and FBI. "But as long as he or she is treated as the chief executive officer and is responsible for everything, then he or she can make sure the operations are carried out by equally competent people."

This week President Bush is expected to sign the intelligence reform bill that Congress just passed, and at the same time, he may nominate a candidate for this newly created cabinet-level position.

The chosen candidate, who must then be confirmed by the Senate, will in corporate parlance be a sort of CEO, presiding over the chief operating officers and employees of America's civilian and military intelligence agencies. This person will oversee thousands of employees (the number is classified) and an estimated $40 billion annual budget (also classified), and he or she will have the ability to re-allocate and redirect some of that money if necessary.

But it won't be easy for any one person to pull 15 disparate agencies together while forcing them to cede some of their control. First, all these entrenched bureaucracies (or fiefdoms) are led by strong personalities, such as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He has the steep responsibilities of running the war in Iraq and, to a great extent, the war on terror, as well as preparing this country's military for future engagements - all with, some say, the appropriate budgetary authority.

Morale in many of these leading agencies, especially the CIA, has plummeted following the exposure of failures in collecting information against Iraq and Al Qaeda. Moreover, a new director, Porter Goss, took the CIA reins in September and embarked on a highly controversial overhaul of the clandestine service.

Others caution that the rushed-through package may create an additional and unnecessary layer of government, and that it addresses reform from the top down only - not "down in the weeds," where the actual work of penetrating terrorist organizations and rogue countries is done.

"Whoever takes the job has to deal at a strategic level and understand what needs to be done to bring various groups and traditions together, while at the same time understanding that all intelligence is local," says Robert Pfaltzgraff, a security expert at Tufts University's Fletcher School in Medford, Mass. "It's at the tactical level where the problem has so often been. We need someone with unconventional ideas in an unconventional era."

One of the ways the reforms will help, though, is in the redirection of resources. Former CIA Director George Tenet, for example, declared that his organization was at war against Al Qaeda in the late 1990s. But he didn't have the budget authority to redirect intelligence dollars to the problem. Under the new plan, the director of national intelligence will have that authority.

Mr. Webster says the new director will need to have an insider's knowledge of the sprawling intelligence community in order to stay close to the work at hand and not be distracted by another bureaucratic layer. The candidate must also be able to command the respect of the various constituencies he or she will serve. At the same time, this person must have a strong relationship with the president.

"That's one of the most important things - his ability to work with members of the community and to work cooperatively with Congress in its oversight responsibilities and the president to whom he will report," Webster says.

Following is a list of the most prominent front-runners for the job:

• Porter Goss - The former CIA operative and congressman who chaired the House Select Committee on Intelligence is an obvious front-runner because Mr. Bush made him CIA director in September. But he's also got his hands full with the rehabilitation process he initiated at the CIA.

• Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden - The the current director of the National Security Agency is mentioned often. He spent three decades working in military intelligence and has a reputation as a tough reformer for shifting the way the NSA collects and analyzes intelligence.

• Thomas Kean - The former Republican governor of New Jersey served as co-chairman of the 9/11 commission. He spent more than a year studying the intelligence failures and putting together most of the recommendations passed by Congress.

• Lee Hamilton - The former Democratic representative from Indiana, known for his nonpartisan approach to solving government problems, served as vice chairman of the 9/11 commission.

• Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R) of Michigan - chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

• Rep. Jane Harman (D) of California - ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

• Former Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia - long-serving congressman who chaired the Armed Services Committee and served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

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