Everybody leads with President Bush nominating ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte as intelligence czar, whose job will be to oversee the U.S.'s 15 intel agencies, at least on paper. The president alsonamed a deputy intel director:Air Force Lt. Gen. Mike Hayden, currently head of the massive National Security Agency.
As hammered out by the White House and Congress last year, the new position has at best ambiguous authority. One former CIA lawyer told the Los Angeles Times, "The bill has given the [new czar] a lot of authorities, but it has not taken authority away from existing Cabinet officers." The Washington Post notes that Negroponte will be in direct control of only a few hundred employees. And as Slate's Fred Kaplan explains, he won't have pink-slip powers over agencies nor control of their budgets. The biggest barrier to centralized control—besides the law itself—is the Pentagon, which controls about 80 percent of the intel budget.
Given the lack of concrete power for the new position, the papers look to Bush's comments for hints about whether Negroponte will get the next best thing: the president's ear. "When the intelligence briefings start in the morning, John will be there," promised Bush. One "administration official" told the LAT that won't be good enough, "Where's his political backing? In Congress? No. From the Republican Party? No. He's not in the Cabinet. Are Cabinet officers really going to report to him on anything?"
A stuffed LAT analysis wraps it up: "SPY CHIEF: IMMENSE BURDENS, MEAGER AUTHORITY."
The New York Times notes that after seven months as ambassador to Iraq, it was "known" that Negroponte was looking for a personal exit strategy. "He made clear to everyone every time he came back that 'I've got to get out of there,' " said a SAO. In any case, Negroponte is widely considered to be quietly competent and hard-charging; he's expected to sail through hearings. There's evidence he turned a blind eye to death squads back when he was ambassador to Honduras, but that was raised during previous confirmation hearings and he still got widespread support.
The NYT's Edward Wong talks with Kurdish leaders, who spelled out their demands for autonomy. As Wong writes, "From control of oil reserves to the retention of the Kurdish militia, to full authority over taxation, the requested powers add up to an autonomy that is hard to distinguish from independence." Said one Kurdish leader, "If the Kurdish people agree to stay in the framework of Iraq in one form or another as a federation, then other people should be grateful to them." The Kurdish slate won 25 percent of the vote.
The LAT and NYT front Israel's announcement that it will stop demolishing homes of Palestinian militants.
The LAT fronts, and everybody else stuffs, more ACLU-obtained Army documents about detainee abuse. Soldiers in Afghanistan told investigators they saw fellow GIs beating prisoners. Continuing a trend, that investigation concluded with six administrative reprimands and no criminal charges. Unlike the other papers, the LAT plays down the seemingly lax punishment, and instead emphasizes the hot, low-cal angle that GIs took some photos commemorating the abuse but destroyed them when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke.
The NYT reefersAfghan witnesses saying U.S. soldiers executed two villagers last Friday. The military says it's investigating.
The NYT and Post notice House Republican leaders saying they're against raising the cap on Social Security taxes, an idea that was seemingly floated by Bush earlier this week. A wider-angle story in the LAT quotes various conservative activists ticked off that the idea was broached.
The WP fronts Japan joining with the U.S. in declaring that security in the Taiwan Strait is a "common strategic objective." The formal agreement will be penned Saturday. It's apparently a response to China's growing power.
The Post off-leads meta-studies seeming to show that people taking antidepressants were twice as likely to attempt suicide as those taking placebos. The article—"DRUGS RAISE RISK OF SUICIDE"—waits until the 21st paragraph to note that suicides were still "rare, meaning that it takes very large studies to yield definitive results." The NYT looks at the same analyses, and stuffs them, concluding the results were "mixed, and apparently contradictory." The Times says that in two of three studies there was "no significant link between the medications and suicide."