Tim Russert is NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and host of Meet the Press.  He regularly offers MSNBC.com’s readers his insight and analysis into questions about politics past, present and future.

MSNBC:  Tim, the top story in Washington this week is???

Tim Russert:  I think it has to be the selection of John Negroponte and Michael Hayden as the director and deputy director of the new intelligence agency.  The September 11th committee said the United States had some clues, but no one was looking at one central board.  America now has that central board and the people in charge.  They have to shake that bureaucracy, get it to communicate with one another and hopefully prevent another 9/11.

MSNBC: Negroponte is expected to be easily confirmed as America’s first National Intelligence Director.  But will he be able to succeed in the job?  The plan looks good on paper, but those plans can’t take into account the personalities from which conflicts often arise.

Russert:  Whenever you have a startup position where you have to get control of entrenched bureaucracies, it’s a real challenge.

Can Mr. Negroponte get the vast spy agencies in the United States government working together and clearing things through him?  Well, now that he has control of their budget, and all of the money, he can usually get their attentions.

The interesting thing is the man who was chosen as his deputy, Michael Hayden, who runs the NSA, the National Security Agency – the “big ears in the sky” that bring in all the raw information.  He is a very seasoned and trained operative that will be enormously helpful in running the mechanics.

So, the two of them together, I think, have a chance at this.  But it’s going to take time.  There’s no doubt about it.

Secondly, briefing the president is no small task.  And the fact is Mr. Negroponte is going to spend several hours preparing for and ultimately briefing the president.  That, in itself, can be an enormously time consuming position.

MSNBC:  Why Negroponte?

Russert:  He is someone who, obviously, has won the president’s confidence with his tenure at the United Nations and recently in overseeing the elections in Iraq.

Secondly, he’s someone who’s been in the bureaucracy for 40 years – not only a diplomat, but someone who knows hot to work inside, maneuver inside and maybe throw a few elbows occasionally. And that’s what it’s going to take.

MSNBC:  Isn’t it somewhat ironic that Negroponte, in his role as ambassador to Iraq, undertook the effort to begin setting up his own intelligence system to gather his own separate and independent intelligence in Iraq?

Russert:  Yes, because it’s exactly the opposite of what America is going to need in terms of working it through one central system.

If you read the September 11th Commission report, it will say that there were warning signs about various aspects of 9/11, but no one had the full board before them, on their desks.  Hopefully that will change now.

MSNBC:  Negroponte is a career foreign service guy – a diplomat.  Isn’t he kind of a surprise choice to head the entire intelligence community?

Russert:  Other people had been contacted about this position.  Mr. Negroponte is fully aware he was not the first choice, but he is someone who the president has confidence in.

They reached out to Robert Gates, the former CIA Director; William Barr, the former FBI director; and Sam Nunn, former senator from Georgia.  But the way it is now in Washington, sometimes people just don’t want to come here and take on these types of jobs.

But Negroponte is a seasoned diplomat.  He’s been in business 40 years.  He’s surrounded himself with a deputy in Michael Hayden, who really is an expert on intelligence gathering.  So, I think he was chosen for his bureaucratic ability, not to be taken for a ride and to get people to cooperate and share information.

He’s going to have to take on Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, who likes to husband information and hold it.

MSNBC:  How much control does this new intelligence czar have over the military part of the United States intelligence – which is the bigger part, right?

Russert:  It sure is.

He now has budgetary control and he now has direct access to the president.  So, he has a chance of getting it.  But nothing’s a given.

MSNBC:  Who will we be seeing Sunday on Meet the Press?

Russert:  A very interesting show with two people who are deeply involved in these issues, but also may have some political aspirations – Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton, of New York, together, on Meet the Press.


Discussion comments