When Gen. Michael Hayden, the former NSA director, was nominated to head the Central Intelligence Agency, a few folks were worried. The CIA was supposed to be in charge of informant and spies -- human intelligence, or HUMINT. The NSA was a signals intelligence, or SIGINT, shop. Could the CIA really trust someone like Hayden, who specialized in technical snooping?At the time, it seemed like a minor point. Hayden, after all, had a HUMINT background, too. And his resume wasn't really the issue; his authorizing of warantless wiretaps loomed much larger.But the SIGINT/HUMINT divide is bound to come up again, now that Hayden's boss, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, is getting ready to skedaddle. Because Negroponte's likely replacement is Admiral Mike McConnell, another former NSA director. Another SIGINT guy.Now, since 9/11, just about everyone in the intelligence field has talked about how crummy our network of flesh-and-blood informants is. Can a certified geek like McConnell fix that? Or is this one more acknowledgment of the triumph of technical intelligence -- and the decline of human snoops?UPDATE 5:59 PM: Speaking of spying, let's hope the Daily News somehow got this story wrong. Because if George Bush really just granted the government, by executive fiat, the power to read our mail without a warrant, it violates every notion of privacy and due process under the law we've built up over the last 230 years in this country.UPDATE 01/05/06 11:36 PM: "John D. Negroponte's exit from the nation's top spy post after just 19 months will temporarily stall reform efforts for the nation's 16 intelligence agencies and sow further instability," Siobhan Gorman reports in today's Baltimore Sun.
The departure leaves Negroponte's likely successor, retired Vice Adm. J. Michael McConnell, with little time to put the fledgling office on solid footing before the next White House turnover, tlawmakers and intelligence officials said.The leadership change in the Director of National Intelligence office is compounded by the absence of a deputy to replace Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who left the job as second-in-command last spring to head the CIA.