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The Baltimore Sun January 13, 2006

Probe sought on NGA firing

Mikulski concerned intelligence agency's director was removed because of dissent

By Siobhan Gorman

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland called yesterday for an investigation into Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's "dismissal" of the head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the government's third-largest intelligence agency.

In a sharply worded letter to the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Democratic senator said Rumsfeld should testify publicly about his decision to end the tenure of NGA Director James R. Clapper Jr., whose agency collects intelligence largely from satellite images.

Mikulski said she is particularly concerned by reports that Rumsfeld's decision was punishment for Clapper's statements about a proposal to establish a governmentwide spy chief's office.

"We simply cannot allow group think, failure to speak truth to power, fear of retaliation or concerns over turf to interfere with our overriding mission to protect the American people," she wrote.

Calling the NGA "one of America's most important intelligence agencies," she said she was worried about the "implications of his departure on the intelligence community."

The senior Democrat on the intelligence committee quickly endorsed Mikulski's request.

"I share Senator Mikulski's view that General Clapper has done an excellent job at NGA, and I think the committee should look into his departure to ensure that he is not being dismissed because he was candid and honest with Congress," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia said through a spokeswoman.

Rockefeller added that he wants to make sure Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte "was appropriately involved in this important personnel decision."

Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who chairs the committee, will "consider the request," said Sarah Little, a spokesman for the senator.

The Sun reported last week that Rumsfeld had decided not to renew Clapper's contract, largely out of anger over Clapper's congressional testimony in favor of a plan to remove his agency from the Pentagon's sole control and instead give the office that Negroponte now leads overall authority for governmentwide intelligence operations. Clapper told Congress that such a plan, which Congress later approved and President Bush signed into law, would not hamper the NGA's work.

"I was disappointed that Secretary Rumsfeld did not deny the public reports or emphasize that everyone in our defense and intelligence communities has a duty to testify before Congress honestly and completely, without fear of any retaliation," wrote Mikulski, a member of the Intelligence committee.

Asked about the letter, a Pentagon spokesman, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, said, "As with all letters from Congress, the secretary will respond in a thoughtful and timely manner."

Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat and a member of the House intelligence committee, said he applauded Mikulski's call but hoped Negroponte would step in before Congress has to.

"This is a perfect time for [Negroponte] to stand up and evaluate whether we need to maintain Clapper's leadership because that is in the interest of national security," said Ruppersberger, who praised Clapper and added that he is concerned about the agency losing an experienced leader.

Mikulski said the issue is important in light of investigations into recent intelligence failures, which concluded that the government needs to encourage competing analysis and that the 15 U.S. intelligence agencies need to work together more closely.

"America cannot afford to have anyone think that they will be punished for honestly answering questions," she wrote.

The Pentagon is responsible for an estimated 85 percent of the government's intelligence budget, and during the congressional debate over creating a director of national intelligence, the Pentagon's allies on Capitol Hill attempted to pare back the new director's powers.

In the late summer of 2004, Clapper, a retired three-star Air Force lieutenant general, told Congress that placing the NGA under the new spy master's control would not harm the agency. Michael V. Hayden, then the director of the National Security Agency, said the same about the NSA.

Soon after, according to a former government official, Rumsfeld called both men in to express his displeasure with their statements.

Intelligence specialists said Rumsfeld's recent decision to replace Clapper shows that the scope of Negroponte's power as the first director of national intelligence has not been resolved.

"This just demonstrates how far we are from working out control arrangements in the intelligence community," said Gregory Treverton, a former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council, who is now at the Rand Corp. think tank. "It's no secret the Pentagon never liked the idea of a director of national intelligence."

Mikulski said she also wants to hear from Rumsfeld about his efforts to work with Negroponte to reform the intelligence agencies. Several intelligence experts have said the Pentagon is creating its own intelligence operation parallel to Negroponte's.

Clapper, 64, became NGA director Sept. 13, 2001, and is scheduled to leave June 13.

His agency, in Bethesda, has been estimated to have more than 8,000 employees and a budget of $2 billion by intelligence specialist John Pike of Globalsecurity.org. The exact numbers are classified.

Mikulski has met twice with Clapper, including at the NGA campus, according to her office.

In her letter, Mikulski noted that Clapper's departure would come at a time of leadership turnover at four other "key" intelligence agencies.

The leaders of the NSA, which is responsible for intercepting electronic communications; the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds intelligence equipment, including satellites; and the Defense Intelligence Agency, which collects intelligence for battlefield use, all have been at their respective agencies for less than six months. The CIA director has been in his job for just over a year.


Copyright 2006, The Baltimore Sun