America's first intelligence czar

Bush Thursday named Negroponte as the overall director of intelligence.

By , Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor , Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor

As US ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte already has a tough job. But now he's in line for something that in its own way might be tougher: service as the first US director of national intelligence.

Iraq is dangerous, of course, and its politics intense.

In Washington, however, Ambassador Negroponte may find that the DNI post comes with unprecedented responsibility, and less power than advertised.

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If confirmed by the Senate, Negroponte will be expected to set overall budgets for a constellation of US intelligence agencies, many of which might fight major changes he wishes to make.

By law, he'll be the president's chief adviser on intelligence matters - but he'll have no direct control over actual intelligence operations.

What's more, on his very own issues he'll have lots of competition for the president's ear.

"Negroponte is going to have to fend for himself out there, with the ambiguities in the law, and hope he can make it work on the basis of goodwill," says Stansfield Turner, former director of central intelligence.

President Bush announced his pick of Negroponte for the DNI slot at a snap Thursday press conference. It came at a time when the administration was coming under increasing criticism for slowness in trying to fill the job.

On Wednesday, for instance, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D) of West Virginia, the ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, complained publicly of "foot-dragging," and called the delay in naming a DNI "simply unacceptable."

In announcing his choice, President Bush said that Negroponte understands the intelligence needs of US policymakers, plus the need to make intelligence agencies work together.

"If we're going to stop the terrorists before they strike, we must ensure that our intelligence agencies work as a single, unified enterprise," said President Bush.

With Negroponte, Bush has a veteran security official whose wide-ranging background may make him an obvious fit for the post.

But Negroponte's confirmation may not be a slam dunk. As ambassador to Honduras from 1981-85, he played a prominent role in aiding the contra rebels in their war with the left-wing Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua.

In past some human rights groups have alleged that Negroponte knew about and did not disapprove of the activities of Honduran death squads funded and partly trained by the CIA. Negroponte has testified that he did not believe death squads were operating in Honduras.

He was personally never held responsible for any actions of the death squads, but some officials within the CIA were, and in the early 1990s the US government forced the CIA to change its methods for recruiting and maintaining foreign agents after the abuses became public.

"There are both pluses and minuses here [concerning Negroponte]," says former DCI Stansfield Turner. "I wish we could have found someone less controversial to get this off to a smooth start."

Born in London, the son of a Greek shipping magnate, John Negroponte graduated from Yale. From 1960 to 1987 he was a member of the US Foreign Service, and has worked in posts in Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

Picked by Bush as US ambassador to the UN, he was confirmed by the Senate on Sept. 18, 2001, following a half-year delay due to the controversy over his Honduran activities.

He was sworn in as US Ambassador to Iraq on June 29, 2004.

In Iraq, Negroponte has overseen the buildup of the largest US embassy staff in the world, and Iraq's baby steps toward democracy, including the recent elections.

But he has also seen firsthand the growth and tenacity of the Iraqi insurgency, and the terrorist activities of foreign fighters come to wage jihad against American troops.

In Congressional testimony on Wednesday, both Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and CIA Director Porter Goss said that Iraq-hardened jihad cells may move to other countries and remain a threat to the US once Iraq stabilizes.

From Mr. Rumsfeld's and Mr. Goss's comments "it would follow that a person who knew a great deal about these groups and had operated in Iraq, even for a short time, as ambassador could be an interesting candidate to oversee intelligence operations in this country," says Robert Pfaltzgraff, an expert on international security at Tufts University's Fletcher School.

Some of the important architects of the law which established the director of national intelligence position said that Negroponte seems just the sort of person they had in mind when drawing up the job's responsibilities.

"Lee Hamilton and I are both very pleased with this appointment, and very supportive," says former GOP New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean. Governor Kean, with ex-Rep. Hamilton, a Democrat from Indiana, were co-chairman of the 9/11 commission.

On Thursday, President Bush also tapped Lt. Gen. Mike Hayden, director of the National Security Agency, to be deputy director of national intelligence.

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