BRIAN LAMB, HOST: John Negroponte, you started in your career in Vietnam with the embassy there and then you ended up in Iraq with the embassy, running that; any comparison between these two wars?
JOHN NEGROPONTE, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: That’s a good question. I think about it a lot but I also – I don’t really see many analogies. The Vietnam situation was a Cold War situation. There was a very clear cut enemy and North Vietnam being supported by the Soviet Union in this Cold War conflict. I think the enemy was easier to define. We didn’t have has as many debates about the nature of the enemy as we seem to be having with respect to Iraq and then one interesting thing, is that the security situations were very different. In Vietnam, the cities were secure; the province capitals were secure. I walked around that country as an unarmed civilian for almost four years without ever having any serious brushes, so to speak. Whereas, in Iraq, even the capital is highly insecure; perhaps, one of the most insecure places in the country, so there are a lot of differences, probably more differences then there are similarities.
LAMB: What impact did that Vietnam experience have on the rest of your career?
NEGROPONTE: Well, first of all, it was a career-defining situation. My first post, actually, was in Hong Kong. I joined the Foreign Service 46 years ago, in mid-1960 and went out to Hong Kong as a Vice Counsel and then after Hong Kong I was sent to – I volunteered, actually, to study Vietnamese and to go out there, not really expecting that it would have such an impact on my life and my career and I ended up spending the next 13 years or so working on the Vietnam question, one way or another, either in Saigon or in Paris at the peace talks on Vietnam or working for Dr. Kissinger on the National Security Council staff, so I spent more than a decade working on the Vietnam question and those experiences, whether they were in Vietnam or in Paris or in Washington, are all pretty firmly etched in my memory.
LAMB: If somebody asked you – obviously, if a president said to you, you have all this experience around Vietnam what did you learn to warn us about the future, anything come to mind?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I mean a couple of things. Of course, numerous things if you want to talk about it extensively but I think first of all, I think I became fairly wary about foreign engagements and foreign involvement and very mindful of the importance of gauging one’s moves very carefully before becoming involved, on a large scale, in a foreign situation of this kind. Secondly, I think – I’ve come to realize not only from Vietnam but experiences I’ve had between Vietnam and now, the eight other different foreign postings that I’ve had in my career that it’s – while it’s relatively easy to get involved in some of these countries, situations tend not to resolve themselves as quickly as one might like and that very often, seeking an objective that looks like maybe it’d take maybe a few months or a year to accomplish, sometimes, is a matter of many, many years indeed. When you look at some of the involvements that we’ve become engaged in, around the world, some of them endure to this day. The Korean War, we still have thousands of troops there and so forth.
LAMB: Let me bring the audience up to date on your career and we have it on a screen so they can see it. It goes back – we start after what we just talked about in 1981 and it’s ’81 to ’85, Ambassador to Honduras; ’85 to ’87 Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs; ’87 to ’89 Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; Ambassador to Mexico ’89 to ’93; Ambassador to the Philippines ’93 to ’96; ’97 to ’01 you were out of government for a while as an Executive VP for Global Markets of the McGraw-Hill Companies; ’01 to ’04 in June, U.S. Permanent Representative of the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq June of 2004 and to April 2005 and then, now, since April of 2005 Director of National Intelligence, DNI; are we leaving anything out?
NEGROPONTE: No, I think that covers it.
LAMB: Why did you get into this business?
NEGROPONTE: Except I would say, since you started in the latter part of my career starting from 1981 and we talked about Vietnam I really would say, probably, some of the most important assignments and situations that I saw were during that Vietnam War, particularly, being the Director for Vietnam on the National Security Council staff working for Dr. Kissinger.
LAMB: Why did you get into this business?
NEGROPONTE: I always wanted to be involved in diplomacy. I was fascinated by history; political science. I liked foreign languages. I’d studied – I’d taken by junior year abroad when I went to college and I was pretty set on joining the Foreign Service right from the time I went to college and in fact that’s what I did. I took the exam while I was still in college and entered shortly – several months after graduation.
LAMB: Define the – your job, Director of the Office of National Intelligence.
NEGROPONTE: The Director of National – well, I think I can try and do it for you in one sentence and I’d be pleased to try and elaborate on that later but I think the purpose of this office is to help integrate the foreign, the military and domestic intelligence activities, of our country, so that those resources can be best utilized for the defense of the homeland and of our interest overseas.
LAMB: Sounds kind of flip but after 19 months, how’s it going?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I think another way of saying it is that the purpose of intelligence reform was to improve information sharing and increase the integration of the community and I really think it’s going pretty well. I think the 16 different federal agencies that are involved, in the intelligence community, in one way or another; they get it in terms of the importance of information sharing of integration. I think they see that there’s no single intelligence discipline, whether it’s signals intelligence or geospatial (ph) intelligence or human intelligence that has all the answers, so the effort does have to be integrated, it has to be collaborative and I think everybody’s working together on that basis.
LAMB: U.S. News and World Report were reported in their November 13th issue have you on the cover, David Kaplan (ph) and Kevin Whitelaw (ph) wrote the piece. They said in the piece that the Office of National Intelligence Agency cooperated with them; I want to ask you did you read it of course?
NEGROPONTE: Yes, I did.
LAMB: Is it accurate?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I think it’s fine, yes.
LAMB: The one thing I wanted to ask you about at the beginning, (INAUDIBLE) says within weeks the White House is expected to approve over 30 DNI recommendations on how to improve the flow of intelligence, is that right and can you give us a hint as to the kind of recommendations you’re going to make?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I think they’re probably referring to a report that we have sent up to the Congress on information sharing, which is now publicly available and it sets forth guideline – various types of guidelines for information sharing but again, I would stress that what I think is working well here, is that everybody recognizes the importance of working together and I think that’s the key element in the situation.
LAMB: Are the figures right that there are 100,000 people working in intelligence at a budget of $44 billion a year and that you have 1250 people working directly for you?
NEGROPONTE: Those are approximately correct figures. We don’t – we have never commented on the intelligence budget itself. We have confirmed that we have close to 100,000 personnel working across the intelligence community, in its entirety and yes, I have about 1200 people working in my directorate.
LAMB: And what kind of budget authority do you have over all these different agencies?
NEGROPONTE: Well that’s one of the features of the intelligence reform legislation. It gave me quite significant budget authority. I prepare what is known as the National Intelligence Budget. It is I who – and my office that recommends that budget to the Office of Management and Budget and to the President and so, it is a substantial authority, designs to try and help rationalize and harmonize budget proposals that come from across the community in its entirety, so it’s a significant authority and I think it represents an important step forward towards consolidating that kind of authority in the hands of one institution.
LAMB: How often do you personally see the President during the daily briefings?
NEGROPONTE: Well, one of the – both the satisfactions and challenges of this job, is that I get to see the President every day when he receives his daily intelligence briefing. The President normally is briefed six days a week, Monday through Saturday for about a half hour from – usually from 8:00 to 8:30 in the morning and whenever he is in Washington, I attend those briefings. If he’s traveling, as he is now, for example, there is a briefer from the intelligence community who travels with him and who gives him his briefing materials, during the course of those trips but when we’re back in Washington, I’m present there when the briefing is presented to the President, the Vice President, the Chief of Staff Mr. Joshua Bolten and Mr. Hadley, the National Security Advisor, so there’s six of us in the room every morning for a half hour going over these issues.
LAMB: Do you have to prepare and if you do, how long does it take you for these briefings?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I certainly read the material that’s going to be presented to the President and sometimes, although not very often, have some comments of my own as to the suitability of the material but I certainly read it. I get an advanced copy of it the night before, so I read it then and then I usually give it another read, just an hour or so before the President is briefed at eight o’clock in the morning to make sure that I’ve got the facts at my fingertips.
LAMB: If the average person were sitting in that room with no prior knowledge about anything and just listened every day to that briefing, would they be alarmed?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I don’t think – I mean first of all, the purpose intelligence is to inform. It’s one of many tools designed to help decision makers make national security decisions. It’s certainly not intended to alarm. I think that most people attending the briefings would not be surprised at the kinds of subject matter that is discussed. It’ll be international terrorism; it’ll be the latest developments with respect to al-Qaida and what we think they may or may not be doing; it’ll have to do with some of the hotspots around the world, whether it’s Iraq or Iran or North Korea and then there’ll be materials that are related to particular events or meetings that the President himself might have coming up on his schedule, whether it’s a trip to Europe or to Jordan like he’s undertaking right at this moment or some international leader who’s coming to town and whom he’s about to meet and maybe there’ll be a discussion of issues related to that particular country.
LAMB: What I was really getting at, is that you know we went through a period after 9/11 where we had a lot of warnings that you know, the level was moved up to yellow to orange and all that stuff; that seems to have stopped and is there a reason why it has stopped?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I can’t comment on what happened way back then because to be honest with you, I was working in another job and I wasn’t that focused at the time. I was with the United Nations and then in Iraq but certainly during the time that I’ve been there, threat information is discussed, from time-to-time, particularly, when there’s something that seems to be particularly important or particularly imminent but we do make an effort to keep these kinds of reports in the proper perspective; try to make sure that the threats are evaluated as well as they possibly can before we surface them; that kind of information for our customers to try to make sure that people don’t overreact to particular situations but sometimes there really are serious situations that have to be dealt with, for example, for a while there last summer, we were getting a fairly steady stream of information about this plot that was developing in the United Kingdom to blow up some airliners that were going to take – go on transatlantic flights, so that was a very serious situation. I mean we were staying as closely abreast of that as we could.
LAMB: It’s often reported that the President is not curious. That’s what the – is said often in columns and stuff like that. From your experience, in these meetings, is he curious?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I would certainly say that he’s a very, very interested customer for intelligence and very interested in the subject matter and now that he’s been the President for six years, he’s very, very familiar with the different issues and the different strands of information that we’ve been following over all of these years and I’d say without, you know, much fear of contradiction that from a point of view of what’s happened, during the past six years, he’s probably the best-informed person in the room when those briefings are being given.
LAMB: How does the media do, from your perspective, as you watch? I mean you get – you pick up that paper every day and you know what’s going on and you read in the paper certain things and how often do you shake your head and say, they have not a clue as to what they’re talking about?
NEGROPONTE: Oh, I think it’s very situationally dependent. I read papers, just like I would imagine you do every day. I read them quite carefully. In fact, I read a couple of newspapers first thing in the morning before I read anything else, so like everyone else, I am very dependent and reliant on open source material for an important body of knowledge that I need to work with. Sometimes they’ll get stuff wrong; sometimes they’ll put out something from one particular source who happens to have an axe to grind or only knows one side of a particular issue but that just depends on the situation. Sometimes it depends on the reporters, so.
LAMB: The day we’re taping this the leak came out from the Stephen Hadley memo, to the President on Mr. Malaki over in Iraq and I just wonder, do you ever have this problem in your organization, having leaks like this come out and why do you suspect these kind of things get out?
NEGROPONTE: Well, it’s actually one of the – I mean you’re touching on what I find one of the more frustrating aspects, well, of our work and if there’s been a disappointment in the 18 months that I’ve been the Director of National Intelligence, it’s been a number of these leaks of sensitive intelligence information and I’ve always found that very disappointing. I’m kind of old school about these things and I find that – frankly I find it quite shocking when people put out this kind of information and I think it undermines the policy process and obviously, can cause diplomatic complications, as well, not to mention the fact that often it – these leaks involve the release of highly classified information with potential damage to our national security.
LAMB: When reading Michael Gordon’s (ph) piece in the New York Times, this morning, you get the sense that somebody wanted this out and that he ended up seeing the entire memo and was able to copy it and put it in the paper. How do you, you know, how do you not have this happen in your office? How do you avoid it?
NEGROPONTE: Well, a number of things. I mean first of all, I think 99.9 percent of all of our personnel are very disciplined, a loyal, dedicated professional workforce and you know, I wouldn’t want to go through this interview without emphasizing that point. We have a superb workforce; very committed to the national security of our country and I don’t think – and they know the responsibility of working with this – the kind of material they do, so I think by and large, I think the nation’s secrets are in extremely good hands but you get the occasional aberration where somebody, for some personal agenda of their own, whether it’s they feel they want to take a policy into their own hands; they want to cause one of our political leaders some kind of complication they will engage in these kinds of activities of the unauthorized release of this kind of information and it’s very, very unfortunate. How you deal with it, of course, is you’ve just got to police it as best you can. Certainly, if it involves the release of classified information, let’s say some intelligence that has – technical intelligence that has been collected that – where the sources and methods are highly classified we will often file a crimes report to the Justice Department; ask them to investigate the matter. There are a number of these investigations going on, at the moment.
LAMB: Have they ever gotten to the bottom of how the information got out from the NSA on collecting the telephone information – telephone calls?
NEGROPONTE: No but that is certainly one of the incidents which is being investigated and hopefully, they will get to the bottom of that situation but that’s one way. Sometimes, administratively, it’s possible to identify the source of a leak. Maybe there isn’t enough there to – for prosecution; maybe it wasn’t a crime but it turns to have been an egregious error in judgment and then we can take administrative action to try to prevent ...
LAMB: So how long …
NEGROPONTE: And I want to repeat I just don’t think that this is – even though this is grist for the mill here in Washington and for the media whenever one of these documents gets out, I don’t want you to have the impression that there’s just a cascade of these things flowing out from the intelligence community because I don’t believe that’s the case.
LAMB: But the other side of this is how often does an administration want them out? I mean you could come up with a scenario on this latest memo, I have no idea, I just read it like you did (INAUDIBLE) a lot more (INAUDIBLE) they wanted it out for a certain reason.
NEGROPONTE: No, I can’t imagine that; I really can’t.
LAMB: Let me divert for a moment back to your own personal life and career, one of the things that pops out of any bio of you, is that you adopted five children in one country, at one time; what’s that story?
NEGROPONTE: It’s a wonderful story for me and my wife, Diana (ph). When we serving in Honduras, I was ambassador there back from 1981 to 1985, we adopted, at that time, two Honduran girls. They’re now ages 24 and 23 and then after we left Honduras, my wife went back to visit the country several times and as a consequence, of which, we adopted three more children, over the years, from Honduras, so we now have five, ages 24 all the way down to 13 and like any other parents of children, we’re very, very proud and they are the joy of our lives.
LAMB: Why did you do it?
NEGROPONTE: Well, we couldn’t have children, naturally, of our own and we decided and it was about the time that we had reconciled ourselves to that fact that we were serving in Honduras and so we decided that we, nonetheless, wished to have a family and that’s when we adopted our first daughter and then a year or so later we adopted the second one while we still in Honduras and then the others, in the ensuing years.
LAMB: You’re born in London.
LAMB: Your father was …
NEGROPONTE: He was of Greek nationality; both my parents were Greek.
LAMB: Went to Phillips Exeter.
NEGROPONTE: Yes sir.
LAMB: And didn’t you go, at the same time, with Porter Goss went there?
NEGROPONTE: We went to Yale together.
LAMB: Oh Yale.
LAMB: Did you know him?
NEGROPONTE: Yes, I did, in fact. Mr. Goss and I were classmates at Yale.
LAMB: He’s the former head of CIA and …
NEGROPONTE: Right he was and we even took a course together, which we both remember.
LAMB: The man who currently runs the CIA, General Hayden, was the Head of the NASA Security Agency and was your deputy, are you at a disadvantage is what my question is that they’ve had all this experience in intelligence and you have not. You’ve been the diplomat.
NEGROPONTE: You know, I really don’t think so and first of all, I think it’s, in a way, a question of how you define experience with intelligence. I’ve been an ambassador five times, so I’ve had CIA stations working in my embassies, reporting directly to me so I’ve overseen their activities. I’ve been a consumer of intelligence, all these years and if you think about it, in the early part of my career, I also generated quite a bit of intelligence. It was intelligence overtly obtained but I was a political reporting officer in those, almost four years, I spent in Vietnam traveling around the countryside, reporting on political, economic and military developments; generating literally hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of reports, so I was what you would call, I guess, you know, an overt intelligence collector, just like an attache would be, a military attache that some embassy have (INAUDIBLE), so I believe I’ve quite a bit of experience with both the collection and the use and the management of intelligence activities.
LAMB: What does it mean to you, in your job that Secretary Rumsfeld is leaving and you get Robert Gates who used to run the CIA, in that job? What does it mean to the whole idea of the transformation and the way intelligence is collected?
NEGROPONTE: Well, first of all, one can’t be responsible for overseeing the nation’s intelligence activities without having a very good, cooperative and strong relationship with the Pentagon, since a number of our agencies are embedded in our military establishment; the NSA, the National Security Agency, the Geospatial Agency (ph) and the National Reconnaissance Office, so …
LAMB: Is it 80 percent of the budget, at least?
NEGROPONTE: Well, we don’t talk about the exact percentages. I’ve seen that figure out there but I wouldn’t place total confidence in it but in any case, we have to work with the military. The military are – and the Pentagon, it’s an indispensable partner in the national intelligence effort. I had an excellent relationship – I have an excellent relationship with Mr. Rumsfeld. I think the fact that Bob Gates is coming back to government service is a wonderful thing. He replaced me, you mentioned in my biographic sketch that I was once the Deputy National Security Advisor under Colin Powell. That was at the end of the Reagan Administration when President Bush Sr. took over and he brought Bob Gates in as the Deputy National Security Advisor, so he replaced me and I had worked with him very closely when he was the Deputy Director of the CIA and look forward very much to working with him again.
LAMB: What would people that work around you or work for you say about you, if you weren’t in the room?
NEGROPONTE: I don’t know.
LAMB: I mean what would they say is your strength and why you’re in this job?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I don’t know. I’d like to think they’d say it was my experience than …
LAMB: But what has that experience done for you to give you, you know, the insight into how to deal with this? You’ve got a job that – I assume you wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and wonder what’s going on around the world.
NEGROPONTE: Well, I think certainly the experience, the dealing closely with national security issues from various perspectives, not only diplomatic but working in the White House, as we just talked about, so familiarity with the policy process; how intelligence and information is used to ultimately make decisions. I guess I’d like to say, perhaps – I’d like to think that they’re saying that he keeps – that he has a strong team. I value, very much, having a strong, capable, experienced collaborators and I believe I’ve pulled together a very good team and they’ve stayed with me for these past 18 months and I hope they’ll stay with me as long as I’m in the job.
LAMB: Sixty-seven years old?
NEGROPONTE: Yes sir.
LAMB: You going to stay with it for a while?
NEGROPONTE: Well, till the – I mean my plan, in my own mind at least, I visualize staying with it through the end of this administration and then I think, probably that’ll be about the right time to pack it in.
LAMB: But is there ever a time when we get from you, either in a book form or in a conversation or do you even feel this way, where you say, let me just – if somebody said, you know, give me a primer on how this world works. I mean you know a lot; you’ve seen a lot and when you’re outside looking in we can’t tell what you’re spending the $44 billion on and we’ve seen the intelligence go through problems, in the past, where they didn’t know something was going on, how are we getting money’s worth in all this and what would you tell somebody from your experience?
NEGROPONTE: Well, you’re really asking, I guess …
NEGROPONTE: … several different questions but first, let me go to one where I thought you were going to go at first was, what – are you going to ever write something down about …
LAMB: Yes that …
NEGROPONTE: … your career and your life whether it was in diplomacy or in intelligence or whatever and I’ve thought about that and I’m not particularly tempted to write a book and never have been. I don’t keep copious personal notes of what I’ve done like some people do and that can be a blessing and a curse, depending, on the situation but what I would like to do and I started to do it when I had retired the first time, was maybe an oral history. The State Department has an oral history program; some universities do as well, Columbia; perhaps others and I wouldn’t mind sitting down after I retire, this second time around, sitting down for a few months and just giving people a big dump on my whole career; not for publication and not for my own – a book of my own or anything like that but for scholars and others to draw upon and refer to in the future when they’re studying these particular situations, so if they want to see what I thought about Vietnam or what I felt about Iraq or whatever, it’ll be there for somebody to look at and for scholars to research into, so …
LAMB: Any of those five kids that you have interested in following in your footsteps?
NEGROPONTE: Not directly but I do – there is one whose working for the United Nations World Food Program at the moment. She’s been doing that for last 2.5 years and now wants to get a Master’s in International Relations, so it’s conceivable that she would.
LAMB: But go back to having the five kids here in front of you and they say, all right, Dad tell us how to do what you’ve done, what would – what are the things you’d tell them?
NEGROPONTE: I mean first of all, there’s no substitute for hard work and studying your situation very carefully. Secondly, remember you’re not alone; you can’t – none of these things can be accomplished by one single individual through a virtuoso performance, so I’ve always put a great deal of weight on people, recruiting good people to collaborate with; I think those are – I think good people and then common sense. I mean I think that some of the government work isn’t rocket science, at least, most of it is not and it’s more a question of applying both the common sense and the strength of our upbringing to carrying out the public’s business. It’s a public trust. It’s a public responsibility and I think one’s got to approach it that way.
LAMB: What would you say has been done by the intelligence community and the budget’s gone way up, at least, according to this U.S. News and World Report article, over the last five to six years, what has been done to prevent another 9/11?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I think a number of things and now, you’re going into the issue of how this money is being spent. One of them certainly is the creation of this National Counterterrorism Center. You remember after 9/11 and the various commissions, one of the criticisms was that we hadn’t done enough to connect the dots; that we hadn’t shared information horizontally across the community, so that if an event was occurring in, I don’t know, somewhere in the Pakistan/Afghan border area that suggested there might be some terrorist act being planned in the United States somewhere that information wasn’t getting quickly enough to the people who need to have it. Well that National Counterterrorism Center has now become the fusion center, the place where all federal intelligence information about terrorism goes to, without fail and then that center will make sure that it gets distributed – analyzed, distributed to where it has to go. I think that’s been a very, very important development.
Another has been the reform of the FBI. They now have a national security branch that puts emphasis on intelligence, on collecting intelligence, whereas, previously they were almost exclusively focused on law enforcement matters, so now there’s a better balance between strictly a law enforcement approach to things and factoring in the intelligence aspect, so I think that’s been important.
LAMB: Have you – going back to the Counterterrorism Center, have you stopped the stovepiping (ph) that was talked about so much?
NEGROPONTE: Well, you’ve got all these different databases coming in; you’ve got people in the Counterterrorism Center, from the FBI; from the CIA; from my office; from the Homeland Security Department, so it’s – and it’s like a – it’s an open floor where these workstations are and all the information’s being integrated there, so it’s really much harder to stovepipe. Besides, the director of that center, Admiral Scott ”Red,” holds a – he or his deputy hold a video teleconference with all the different agencies, three times a day, every day to compare notes about the latest threat information that’s come in. There’s a video conference at eight in the morning, at one in the afternoon, I think or at three in the afternoon and again, at one in the morning, every single day, so I think that yes, we’re definitely in a different place than we were prior to 9/11.
LAMB: Is there any evidence, through this last five years that the leak of some of this information has made it harder for you to gather this information around the world, the intelligence information? In other words, we’re always saying that if the enemy finds out that we can listen to their conversations then they stop talking on their cell phones or whatever but is there any evidence that we’ve been set back …
NEGROPONTE: Well, whenever – if there’s a leak or if an agent is compromised – we had a fairly prominent case in the Pentagon, in the Defense Intelligence Agency a few years ago. The Anna Montez (ph) case where it turned out that this lady who was working as an analyst in the Defense Intelligence Agency was actually on the Cuban payroll; well, whenever something like that happens we do a damage assessment. Either the agency concerned will do a damage assessment and yes, sources get compromised, in situations like that and that caused us very, very significant harm with respect to our ability to collect against Cuba, no question about it.
LAMB: What about al-Qaida?
NEGROPONTE: There have been instances although I can’t recall one to my mind at this specific moment where information will have been leaked that might cause, not necessarily, compromise a source but perhaps cause a foreign intelligence service to be reluctant to share information with us. It’s an ever-present problem and it’s a risk one always runs and certainly when it comes to the revelation of sources and methods. This is very, very dangerous indeed. It’s a very laborious and painstaking process to develop sources around the world and obviously, if those sources are somehow compromised, lives get put in danger, information flows can dry up; these things do happen. They’re real.
LAMB: You’re going to have a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate; you’re going to have a new Chairman of the Intelligence Committees in both cases, what concerns you about this?
NEGROPONTE: Well, you know, I’m a great believer, first of all that when it comes to matters like this, politics really should stop at the waters edge. That intelligence is a critical component of our national security and I’d like to believe that we can deal with these issues on a bipartisan basis.
LAMB: Are you worried that they – the House and Senate might go back, have hearings; try again, go back over why we got into this war in the first place?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I you know, I – what will be, will be I guess.
LAMB: You expect it.
NEGROPONTE: I’m not certain. I hope that that can be kept to a minimum if it has to happen because we have so many issues that we’ve got to look forward to. We really need to focus on the problems we confront today and tomorrow rather than looking back at the past and then, perhaps, leave that as much as possible to the historians.
LAMB: If you had to recommend to the Congress or our President, how to change your office already, from what your experience is, is there anything you would do differently?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I rather believe in playing the cards I’m dealt. I was not particularly – I wasn’t involved at all, as a matter of fact, in the intelligence reform process. I was asked to take this job while I was Ambassador in Iraq and so, the whole intelligence reform situation was relatively new to me, so I – my attitude was, carry out the law that’s been passed and what I’ve told both the Administration and the Congress, is that I wanted a couple of years, one and half years or so, to see how it worked under existing circumstances and then, perhaps, only after that interval might I want to have a look at what, if anything, needs to be changed, so what we set for ourselves is a target of starting to look, maybe, early next year and take the first six months of next year to look at what, if changes, we might recommend but right now, I’m focused on trying to make the law, as it is written, work.
LAMB: Want to read you part of a column written by Tom Friedman (ph), I don’t know if you read it in this morning’s New York Times.
NEGROPONTE: Not yet.
LAMB: As a way to get you to tell us – I mean get the other side of this subject, as a way you can tell us what you think about this situation in Iraq. His first paragraph is this, ”Here is the central truth about Iraq today. This country is so broken it can’t even have a proper civil war. There are so many people killing so many other people for so many different reasons, religion, crime; politics that all of the proposals for how to settle this problem seem laughable. It was possible to settle Bosnia’s civil war by turning the country into a loose federation because the main parties to that conflict were reasonably coherent, with leaders who could cut a deal and deliver their faction.” What are you hearing that you want to comment on?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I went to – back to Iraq. I’ve been back twice since I’ve taken this job, about the same time last year, in December of last year and then just two to three weeks ago I was there and the leaders I met with, the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister, the Interior Minister, I mean they counseled patience. I think – and I would agree with that. What I would also say to Mr. Friedman (ph) and to others, is that I think we’re reaching the point where we’ve got to let the Iraqis take more of the lead for their own security and their own defense and I think that’s important and Baghdad is obviously – the situation he’s describing really has to do with Baghdad itself. The key is Baghdad and that’s where the greatest amount of the civil strife is – has occurred and the greatest amount of violence but I believe that with the adequate deployment of Iraqi and U.S. forces, with the continued efforts to train and improve the Iraq Security Forces, particularly, their army that this kind of violence can be dampened down, over time, while the different political factions in Iraq work out their accommodations over the political future of Iraq because part of this has to do with fighting over whose going to control the political destiny of that country but I think that over time, this has really got to become more and more of an Iraqi problem and less and less of a U.S. one and I would hope that our forces can take more of a support role and a training role and fall more into the background rather than being in the lead in the months ahead.
LAMB: You were there for under a year.
NEGROPONTE: Nine months, yes.
LAMB: Nine months, what – if you spend nine months in that country as the ambassador, what do you see that we don’t see through the television lens far away?
NEGROPONTE: Well, of course, I got to travel the length and the breadth of the country. I got to see parts of the country where security was not a problem like Kurdistan. I went up there quite frequently. Got to work at – the time that I was there, of course, was when we had the first elections, which were a considerable success. If I have one regret about that period is that we were never able to dissuade the Sunni politicians from their boycott of those elections in 2005 – in January of 2005 and I think that that was a real setback for the political process. It’s a beautiful country and I think that one day when stability is restored, I think the potential for development of Iraq and the Iraqi nation is very great indeed.
LAMB: Let me read a little bit more from Mr. Friedman (ph). He says ”but Iraq is in so many little pieces now, divided among warlords, foreign terrorists, gangs, militias, parties, the police and the army that nobody seems able to deliver anybody. Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war. It’s gone from breaking apart to breaking down. This is not the Arab/Yugoslavia any more, it’s Hobbs’ jungle.” Little bit more ”given this we need to face our real choices in Iraq which are 10 months or 10 years. Either we just get out of Iraq in phased withdrawal over 10 months and try to stabilize it some other way or we accept the fact that the only way it will not be a failed state is if we start over and rebuild it from the ground up, which would take 10 years.”
NEGROPONTE: Well, there are a lot of big ideas in there. I guess one point that I’d make, is that getting out, just leaving, seems to me not to be an option and the thought of leaving Iraq and allowing it to become – what I think one of the risks then would be that it would become a safe haven for al-Qaida to carry out its plans to spread Islamic extremism, its version of Islam to other parts of the Middle East and then to Western Europe and elsewhere and use it as a platform for conducting terrorist attacks. That’s what (INAUDIBLE) in his famous letter to Zarqawi about 1.5 years ago said, in that Iraq, from his point of view was a platform from which to spread their doctrine and their ideology to the neighboring countries and then beyond, so I don’t see leaving the country as an option so it seems to me that what we’re talking about here, is how do you find a kind of involvement by the United States that is somewhere – strikes a balance between the lead role that we’ve been playing for the last couple of years, several years and no role at all and it’s got – it seem to me to be some kind of middle ground there that has us continuing to be involved but shift great responsibility for what’s happening on the grounds to – and particularly, in Baghdad, to the government and the people of Iraq.
Now, Mr. Friedman (ph) refers to these sort of atomized groups and the fragmentation in Iraq but that to me simply highlights the importance of helping the government of Iraq try to build some strong and effective national institutions and that brings me back to the point I was making earlier, one of the national institutions that has a chance of helping restore order to Iraq, is the national army and to a lesser extent the police force, so it seems to me that one of the areas we really need to concentrate our efforts on is bolstering both the capabilities and the competence and the training and the equipment of the Iraqi Security Forces. That’s an issue on which I put a great deal of emphasis when I was ambassador there and I think it’s an area that deserves even greater emphasis today.
LAMB: Why did we need a $700 million embassy there and 3,000 people working in it, making it the largest embassy in the world?
NEGROPONTE: Well, my information’s a bit dated on the status of the planning for the embassy since I’m no longer working for the State Department but of course, a lot of the people at the embassy are security personnel and as the situation stabilizes and calms over the years, I think that will diminish, so I think that that 3,000 figure is an extremely high one, particularly, when you’re looking at the longer-term. I’ve run two of our largest embassies, in the world, the Embassy in Mexico City and that had 1800 people, if you counted all the 10 consulates that we had all over the – dotted all over the country of Mexico and we had 1700 people in the Philippines, so you know, I would imagine that it could be smaller than the figure you cite but I don’t doubt that Iraq is going to be a very, very important part and represent and very important interests in the United States for a number of years to come and so, I think the construction of that embassy is extremely important and it was also important that we get out of the Republican Palace that we’re using as our embassy now, which is, of course, symbolic of the past Iraqi history and move into a facility of our own.
LAMB: You’re -- I know he’s a predecessor, he wasn’t ambassador, Paul Bremmer, who you replaced.
LAMB: Brought about the de-Baathification of the military there and in the country, was that a mistake because everybody writes that it is and you’ve seen it up close.
NEGROPONTE: Well, when I was there that was an issue that was debated. I’m not sure the – I’d call the de-Baathification itself a mistake. Certainly, the policies of the Baathists and the practices that were carried out under Saddam’s regime by the Bath Party were wrong and needed to be addressed and those who were most responsible needed to be punished. The debate was the extent of de-Baathification. How far down did you go since the people had to join the Baath Party in order to get their jobs, whether it was to be a schoolteacher or a university professor or a doctor or whatever, so there was a debate even when I was there, about how far down you go. Do you go down to the second level and the third level and the fourth level and so forth, so that’s really been the nature of the debate. Whom do you hold accountable and do you hold a large number of people accountable or do you really just go after the worst offenders and of course, we’re focused, at the moment and the Iraqi judicial system is focused on the worst offenders.
LAMB: What – if they execute Saddam Hussein by hanging next year, what impact will that have on that whole world over there? You see predictions that there’ll be riots and all that stuff, what do you think?
NEGROPONTE: I’m not certain, although, I think there are a lot of the Iraqis who want some kind of closure in this situation; many Iraqis and I think we’ll just have to see what happens. I think there are probably also some insurgents, some Sunni extremist insurgents who are fighting in the belief that – under the illusion that they may be fighting to bring Mr. Saddam back to power, so it could have the effect of actually discouraging some of the Sunni extremists but we’ll have to see how that situation plays itself out.
LAMB: We’ve got a couple minutes; as you look at your last two years in this job, what is the biggest threat to this country right now from an intelligence – what you know about intelligence in your opinion, in the terror world?
NEGROPONTE: Al-Qaida continues to plot against the West; against the United States interests around the world and there have been some plots again the United States homeland, so I think that the al-Qaida threat is – continues to be the most serious threat against United States interests today and I think we’re better prepared than we were before 9/11. We’re more vigilant. There are no guarantees but I think in the sense that both – to the extent that we’re both better prepared, better integrated, I think in that sense the country’s probably safer than it was prior to 9/11.
LAMB: Do you expect an attack?
NEGROPONTE: I think the – it’s hard to – I think it’d be wrong to get into this kind of prediction. I don’t think a terrorist attack would necessarily be surprising but I think that the important thing is to do the best we can; to know as much as we can about the plotting that’s going on; disrupt plots. Be on the offensive as we are against al-Qaida in various places around the world and do our best to disrupt them and preempt their activities through the effective collection of intelligence against these plots.
LAMB: If Senator Jay Rockefeller becomes the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee next year and he calls you in and he says you can have anything you want, what would you ask him for that you don’t have?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I’m not sure that I – that would be a very optimistic scenario and I’m not sure that it’s a very realistic prospect since we all have to operate within the budget constraints in which we live but what I think I would want to do, is continue – well, I think my reply would be Senator – Mr. Chairman, I want to continue building up those parts of our intelligence community that we’ve been focused on in the past several years; improve our human intelligence capability; strengthen our analytic capability; continue to rebuild our intelligence workforce that was de-rated and – during the 1990’s, after the end of the Cold War, so I think that the thrust of my reply would be I want to continue the building process that begun – that began in the wake of 9/11 and which I think is going to have to continue for a five to 10-year period ahead to build our intelligence community up to the kind of strength and capabilities and levels of experience that our country needs.
LAMB: Thank you Mr. Ambassador.
NEGROPONTE: Thank you.