Bush nominates Negroponte to be 1st intelligence director
WASHINGTON — President Bush yesterday named John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, as the nation's first director of national intelligence, a job intended to improve the coordination among intelligence and law-enforcement agencies in hopes of preventing oversights such as the ones that kept authorities from uncovering the Sept. 11 terrorist plot.
Bush announced Negroponte's selection two months after signing legislation that created the new position, a delay caused in part because at least one other candidate for the post — former CIA Director Robert Gates — turned it down.
"John will make sure that those whose duty it is to defend America have the information we need to make the right decisions," Bush said. "John understands America's global intelligence needs because he spent the better part of his life in our Foreign Service."
Negroponte, 65, who also has served as U.S. ambassador to Honduras, Mexico, the Philippines and at the United Nations, told Bush, "Providing timely and objective national intelligence to you, the Congress, the departments and agencies, and to our uniformed military services is a critical national task."
Negroponte's past is not without controversy. He served in Honduras in the 1980s, a time when the Reagan administration supported rebels in neighboring Nicaragua despite a congressional ban, and when the U.S.-backed Honduran military was forming death squads.
Negroponte maintains that he privately raised objections with the Honduran government. Critics say he should have done more.
"He was under a statutory obligation to report human-rights abuses," said Robert White, who served as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador in 1980 and 1981. "He clearly violated that, in my opinion."
The son of a Greek shipping magnate, Negroponte graduated from Yale University and entered the career Foreign Service in 1960. He and his wife, Diana, adopted their five children during their time in Honduras.
Known as a conciliator, he went to Iraq last year with the stated purpose of overseeing the transfer of power to a new Iraqi government. In his memoir, "My American Journey," former Secretary of State Colin Powell described Negroponte as having "the management style I liked, toughness applied in an easygoing manner."
Along with Negroponte's appointment, Bush also announced the nomination of Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, now director of the National Security Agency, as deputy national intelligence director.
Hayden, Bush said, has "demonstrated an ability to adapt our intelligence services to meet the new threats of a new century."
Negroponte and Hayden, if confirmed by the Senate as expected, will fill jobs born of mistakes by the CIA, FBI and other agencies in the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Sept. 11 commission, which investigated those failings, recommended in July that Congress establish the position of a national intelligence director who would manage the flow of information among agencies and focus intelligence-gathering on such issues as counter-terrorism.
The failure of the CIA and FBI, among others, to share information about suspected terrorists was noted by the commission as a critical failing.
Under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which Bush signed Dec. 17, the new director has authority to order the collection of intelligence, ensure sharing of information among agencies, determine their budgets and direct how money is spent. This power in the hands of a single official reporting to the president will make intelligence-gathering "better coordinated, more efficient," Bush said.
The authority and influence that the new director will have, though, remains in serious doubt. Analysts suggested that vague wording in the bill leaves plenty of room for bickering over budgets and intelligence authority.
Congress left a significant amount of intelligence-budget authority with the Pentagon, which already controls about 80 percent of the estimated $40 billion annual budget for spying activities. As a result, analysts predicted fights between Negroponte and the Pentagon, where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has expanded the military's role in intelligence gathering.
"There's little doubt that there's going to be pitched battles between the director of national intelligence and the Pentagon," said Lee Strickland, a former senior CIA officer. "Most fair observers of the situation would say the Pentagon has demonstrated a penchant for assuming every power that they could in carrying out its missions."
Questions also remain over the amount of authority Negroponte would have over the counterintelligence work of the FBI and the clandestine work of the CIA, headed by Porter Goss, who will report to the new intelligence czar.
"Clearly the president's backing is going to be crucial," said Lee Hamilton, a vice chairman of the Sept. 11 commission and a former Democratic congressman from Indiana. "They are heading for some bruising fights, particularly with the CIA and more likely with the DOD. ... This is a challenging job. It will take all of John Negroponte's diplomatic skills and then some."
The law also gives the director authority over a new counterterrorism center to better coordinate information among the agencies. It will replace a similar center run by the CIA and FBI.
Despite those uncertainties, Negroponte's nomination drew praise on Capitol Hill from members of both parties.
"John Negroponte has an outstanding record as a career diplomat," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "He will need those skills in working with and coordinating our 15 intelligence agencies and the Pentagon."
Roberts' Democratic counterpart, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, called Negroponte "a very sound choice. Ambassador Negroponte has served bravely and with distinction in Iraq and at the United Nations during a time of turmoil and uncertainty. He brings a record of proven leadership and strong management."
Even Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., the ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee and a frequent critic of the administration's intelligence policies, described Negroponte as "a smart choice for a very important job."
Bush said Negroponte would not work in the White House, but that he would provide the president with his daily intelligence briefing.
Former CIA Director George Tenet also gave Bush a daily briefing, a task that in previous administrations was carried out by a CIA staff member. Critics of the administration's use of intelligence contend that the daily contact between Bush and Tenet diminished the independent quality of the intelligence.
But Bush stressed that Negroponte would have a substantial say in his office, as well as control over how money for spying is spent.
"People that control the money, people who have got access to the president, generally have a lot of influence," Bush said. "And that's why John Negroponte is going to have a lot of influence. He will set the budgets."
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