WASHINGTON – President Bush instructed the nation's new spy chief to focus on finding more recruits with the language skills and cultural background to collect information on Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
During a swearing-in ceremony Tuesday at Bolling Air Force Base outside Washington for retired Vice Adm. Mike McConnell as the second director of national intelligence, Bush said the intelligence community still needs significant improvements more than five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He charged McConnell, who took his new post several days ago, with better integrating the nation's 16 spy agencies, improving information sharing among those agencies and with other officials throughout government, and finding better intelligence technologies. The president — and later McConnell — also focused on a persistent weakness in American intelligence-gathering: a dearth of operatives who speak critical languages, such as Arabic or Farsi.
"The old policies have hampered some common-sense reforms, such as hiring first- and second-generation Americans who possess native language skills, cultural insights and a keen understanding of the threats we face," McConnell said.
Speaking to 300 invited guests at the DNI's office at Bolling, Bush said: "These are enormous challenges, and Mike McConnell has the experience and the character and the talent to meet them."
"This is an opportunity and a privilege of a lifetime," said McConnell. After taking the oath of office from White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten, McConnell kissed his wife, Terry, and shook hands with a smiling Bush.
McConnell's resume includes nearly four decades of work in the intelligence community. He heads an office created by Congress only three years ago to coordinate national intelligence.
The office does not oversee some Defense Department intelligence operations and does not have direct authority over some collection components of the intelligence community.
McConnell, 63, was first commissioned as a Navy line officer in 1967 and served in Vietnam. He gained renown as an intelligence briefer who could skillfully present complex national security matters to military leaders and policymakers.
From 1990 to 1992, covering the first Gulf War, he was intelligence officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, serving then Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell. From 1992 to 1996, he headed the National Security Agency, the world's largest codebreaking and eavesdropping agency.
For the past decade he has worked for Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., a large defense and intelligence consulting company with sales of $3.7 billion worldwide. A specialist in the subjects of cyber security and critical infrastructure assurance, he has been earning a salary of almost $2 million a year.
The first director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, has been nominated to become deputy secretary of the State Department.