Negroponte gets nod for national intelligence chief

Bush selects ambassador to preside over remaking of country's spy network

February 18, 2005|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush named John D. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and a former United Nations envoy, to be the first national intelligence director, tapping a trusted diplomatic hand yesterday to fill a thorny post.

Bush also selected Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the National Security Agency, as Negroponte's deputy, adding a seasoned intelligence official to the new team.

Bush made the announcements after a months-long struggle to find someone who would accept the new position as head of the nation's spy network.

Negroponte would preside over the remaking of an intelligence apparatus that was discredited by its failure to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks and its delivery of faulty information about Iraq's weapons programs that was used to justify the U.S. invasion.

Negroponte "will make sure that those whose duty it is to defend America have the information they need to make the right decisions," Bush said in announcing his choice.

Bush called the new job, created at the behest of an independent commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks, "straightforward and demanding."

Negroponte is expected to win Senate confirmation easily. He would become Bush's primary intelligence adviser, with sweeping authority and control over the budget of the nation's 15 intelligence agencies.

In addition to his current job in Baghdad, which he has held for eight months, Negroponte has served as a diplomat in seven countries, including the Philippines, Mexico and Honduras. He has never held an intelligence post.

Bush acknowledged the challenges facing Negroponte, 65, as he attempts to direct the broadest reorganization of the U.S. intelligence network in a half-century.

Congress agreed to the new structure late last year, but only after a strong personal push from Bush and despite the opposition of some lawmakers in both parties. They worried about the creation of a new level of bureaucracy and the possibility that it would spark turf wars in the intelligence community.

"This is going to take a while to get a new culture in place, a different way of approaching the budget" Bush said.

Among the most difficult tasks Negroponte will face is brokering the fiercely competing interests of the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency as he allocates money among spy agencies.

Negroponte would control the roughly $40 billion intelligence budget, currently dominated by the Pentagon. But he would not have direct authority over any agency.

But Bush said that Negroponte would "have a lot of influence" because of his budget authority and daily access to the president as the "primary briefer" on intelligence matters. He described Negroponte's role as that of a gatekeeper who would sift information from the various intelligence agencies and decide what reaches the president.

"If he thinks it's appropriate I see it, I'll see it, and if he thinks it's a waste of my time, I won't," Bush said.

The president's choice drew a positive reaction from Capitol Hill, where senators in both parties said they would move quickly on Negroponte's nomination.

Delay on hearings

But it was unclear how soon he could assume his new post. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, said Negroponte told him that he would have to return to Iraq to complete his work there. A spokeswoman for Roberts, Sarah Ross Little, said that "it could be weeks" before Negroponte appears at confirmation hearings.

Democrats questioned Bush's decision to pull Negroponte from Iraq at a time when that country is struggling to maintain security and create a democratic government.

Sen. Carl M. Levin of Michigan, senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, expressed concern "about the message we are sending" to Iraq and the world by removing Negroponte from Baghdad so soon after he arrived there and "at such a critical point" in that country.

Other lawmakers and analysts warned that Negroponte would be stepping into a difficult job where he would have primary responsibility for warding off a terrorist attack but few tools for taming the nation's unwieldy intelligence bureaucracy. The best-known part of that apparatus, the Central Intelligence Agency, is in flux as Porter J. Goss, the new director, shakes up his agency.

In a statement, Goss, who was once in the running to become the national intelligence chief, called Bush's pick "welcome news and a critical step in continuing to strengthen our intelligence community."

Prolonged search

Negroponte accepted the post after a prolonged search, during which Robert M. Gates, a former CIA director said to have been Bush's favorite for the job, turned it down. Others who were approached also reportedly turned it down, but the White House would not divulge details.

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