If you wondered whether the U.S. intelligence community could possibly perform even more dismally than it has of late with respect to various aspects of the terrorist and proliferation threat, the answer is now in. Even worse is in certain prospect if Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte goes forward with his reported offer to Ambassador Kenneth Brill to become director of the just-announced National Counter-Proliferation Center (NCPC).
As his honorific suggests, Ambassador Brill is not an intelligence professional. Neither has he had any operational experience that would qualify him for a position that will, if it is to be successful, require close coordination with and perhaps direction of U.S. military and other assets capable of performing intercepts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Instead, the ambassador is a career foreign-service officer. So, of course, is Ambassador Negroponte. So is the DNI’s deputy for analysis, Thomas Fingar. So is his deputy for management, Ambassador Patrick Kennedy.
It is not altogether clear what was the point of the intelligence “reform” forced through the Congress in the closing days of the last session. One thing it was presumably not intended to do, however, was to turn over responsibility for key intelligence functions to the Foreign Service.
Hard as it is to believe that the ideal candidate for so sensitive an intelligence and operational position as the NCPC director would be a diplomat, it is even harder to imagine that anyone in the Bush administration would think Ken Brill would qualify. After all, during his last posting as U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, he became a parody of the FSO phenomenon known as “going native”–typically representing others’ interests to Washington, rather than the other way around.
During his tenure at the IAEA, Brill established himself as a tireless advocate of concessions, demarches, and appeasement demanded by, as he put it, the “spirit of Vienna” (i.e., the lowest-common denominator “consensus” positions usually dictated by the proliferators and their friends).
In fact, according to those familiar with his work, Brill actually showed himself time and again to be hostile to the president’s efforts to counter proliferation. He took a dim view of the most innovative approach to preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction in history: the Bush Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). He demurred at the interceptions it authorized, usually contending that the intelligence available was insufficient to justify such actions. He also repeatedly objected to and otherwise sought to undermine Administration efforts to bring effective international pressure to bear on the world’s two most dangerous proliferation threats–Iran and North Korea.
So egregious was Brill’s conduct, according to insiders, that not only the administration’s advocates of robust counter-proliferation policies opposed his being given any subsequent posting, let alone a promotion. Even then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and his Deputy, Richard Armitage, strenuously objected to his conduct at the IAEA and refused to give him another assignment. But for his prospective rehabilitation by Amb. Negroponte, Ken Brill would presumably conclude his career in government with his present year-long sinecure at the National Defense University.
If, on the other hand, the Bush administration foolishly allowed Ambassador Negroponte to rehabilitate his fellow FSO, he would be given an Executive Level 2 position–the equivalent of a departmental deputy secretary. Yet, as things stand now, due to an apparent oversight in the hastily enacted (and ill-advised) law that authorized the NCPC, this post would not require Senate confirmation, its high rank and awesome responsibilities notwithstanding. (That this was indeed an oversight in need of corrective action by the Congress is evident from the fact that the same legislation made the director of the parallel National Counter-Terrorism Center a confirmation position.)
The last thing the United States needs at the pinnacle of the intelligence apparatus assigned to countering what is widely agreed to be the most dangerous threat of our time–the scourge and spread of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists and their state-sponsors–is someone whose past track record suggests that he misperceives the threat, opposes the use of effective techniques to counter it and is constitutionally disposed to accommodate rather than defeat the proliferators.
Kenneth Brill is the wrong man for the wrong job. President Bush has made a point of expressing his confidence in Ambassador Negroponte and given him substantial latitude in personnel and substantive matters. If the DNI does not recognize the folly of this appointment, however, it is incumbent upon the president to appoint as NCPC director someone with the intelligence and/or operational skills–to say nothing of the judgment and strategic vision–necessary to perform it competently.
–Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is an NRO contributor and president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.