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Bush Names New Intelligence Chief

Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2005; 11:00 AM

In a Thursday morning White House ceremony, President Bush named former U.N. ambassador and current ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte as the nation's first national intelligence director. The new position will oversee 15 separate intelligence agencies including the CIA.

Washington Post staff writer Walter Pincus was online Thursday, Feb. 17, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the newly-named director and the intelligence community.

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New York, N.Y.: Does Negroponte have any intelligence experience in his past?

And, on a related note -- Rumsfeld. Why is Rumsfeld warning of an increased risk of attacks on U.S. soil? Shouldn't that announcement come from an intel agency?

Walter Pincus: As an ambassador to several countries and the United Nations, Negroponte has experience using intelligence and running an embassy where the local CIA station chief is part of his team and reported to him. As for Rumsfeld's remarks, I think you will find that CIA Director Goss and the Defense Intelligence Agency chief, Admiral Jacoby, both gave the same type of testimony yesterday since it is the combined intelligence estimate, something Rumsfeld reads every day.


Washington, D.C.: Is it even known yet what Negroponte duties and job description are yet? It seems a lot is still in flux and may be revisited by Congress.

Walter Pincus: You are correct that the exact job of the Director of National Intelligence remains to be worked out. The original structure by the 9/11 commission was unworkable, modified by Congress and left somewhat ambiguous. As Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), told me recently, it needs some "tweaking" which may be done first by the President's Commission which reports next month.


Arlington, Va.: Seeing how Ambassador Negroponte has been a distinguished, effective diplomat in a number of difficult circumstances, what do you make of the timing of this decision? With so much uncertainty in Iraq, wouldn't continuity of personnell and embracing of the personal relationships he has forged with future leaders in Iraq be a top priority?

Walter Pincus: President Bush had a problem finding a satisfactory candidate and Amb. Negroponte solved that. He also didn't plan to stay in Iraq for much longer and there are many more qualified potential ambassadors for Baghdad than there were candidates for the Director job.


New York, N.Y.: Mr. Pincus,

Thanks for your unflinching reporting at a time when some reporters find covering Washington "scary."

Do you believe we'll hear, in confirmation hearings, much questioning of Negroponte about his stint as ambassador to Honduras during the era of the death-squads (which, I hope it is no longer controversial, were trained and financed by the CIA)? Are there, or will there be, documents made available through FOIA requests substantiating his role in those activities, or acquitting him of any involvement?

Especially now that Secretary Rumsfeld has publicly suggested we use "Salvador option" in Iraq, this particular bullet point on Negroponte's resume seems exceedingly relevant.

Walter Pincus: Amb. Negroponte has been through many hearings about Honduras so I am sure he will be prepared for whatever is asked. As for more documents, I just don't know. That particular unhappy chapter has been gone over many times. Perhaps his sensitivity to the past will influence his view of the future. But remember, the way the Director job is structured he only sets "strategic planning" for operations. The actual opreations are prepared and carried out by CIA, the Pentagon or FBI.


Bethesda, Md.: It seems that this appointment came from out-of-the-blue. Is there any idea of how long this has been in the works or who else was considered?

Walter Pincus: The White House has been looking almost from early December when the legislation passed Congress. Others clearly have been approached. For example, former CIA Director Robert Gates. How they landed on Negroponte is something we will be exploring today for tomorrow's story. But one factor that was at work was compatability with the president, which marked Bush's successful relationship with former CIA Director George Tenet.


Washington, D.C.: It has been reported that two other candidates declined the offer for the Director position. Do you have any insight into who those candidates were and if they have similar backgrounds as Ambassador Negroponte? After all, most other potential candidates seemed to have more extensive careers in the military, intelligence, or both.

Walter Pincus: As noted above, Gates is one that I know for a fact talked to the White House about the job. But remember the Dirctor job's prime requirement is as much diplomatic -- ie working with these various intelligence agencies -- as it is rooted in the tradecraft of intelligence. And also remember he has as his deputy, Gen. Michael Hayden from the National Security Agency who has years of experience in the technical side.


Washington, D.C.: Since John Negroponte was implicated by the Honduran Rights Commission in backing the Honduran death squads while he was ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, does this mean Bush, aside from being completely uncaring toward human rights, has also forgotten the lessons of Abu Ghraib? Were there any lessons?

Walter Pincus: Don't underestimate the impact of being accused publicly of association with such activities. I know first hand that Negroponte was deeply affected by that period. People learn lessons from such events and he clearly will be watched in this new role.


Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C.: How has Ambassador Negroponte displayed "a sensitivity to the past?" Has he ever apologized? Made amends of any kind?

Walter Pincus: I do not know whether he has apologized but I am sure the issue will be raised at his confirmation hearing.


Asheville, N.C.: Walter,

While the Security Agency head job is rather far-reaching in scope, control and influence over all the independent agencies (including budget and, presumably promotions and hiring) what actual oversight can "we the people" expect from both Congress and the executive branch?

Walter Pincus: That question of oversight is an important one. The House and Senate have made few changes, although the failures of intelligence on 9/11 and Iraq were also major failures of congressional oversight. There is also a role for us in the media and the many "think tanks" that have grown up in this city. As for you all, the public, it's up to you to prod and poke your legislators and us in the media.


Washington, D.C.: Mr. Pincus -- thank you for taking questions. Who will replace Negroponte in Iraq?

Walter Pincus: I don't know who will take over in Baghdad, but as I mentioned before I am sure there are many more potential candidates for that job than there were for Director of National Intelligence.


Washington, D.C.: It is clear that Ambassador Negroponte has many strengths he will need to meet the challenges as director. However, as one who covers intelligence matters so thoroughly, what do you see as his primary weaknesses?

Walter Pincus: The biggest weakness is his lack of knowledge about the key players within the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security and Pentagon intelligence structures. I don't mean the people at the top. i mean the people who really do the work, carry out the orders and know truly when things are working and when they are not. Being able to reach down into such agencies, to people with whom you have had a past trusting relaitonship in order to get to truty, is important on top of structures that operate in secret.


Arlington, Va.: What is your opinion of the deputy, Lt. General Hayden? Will he become a four-star general with this appointment?

Walter Pincus: I had been told that a fourth star for Hayden was already in the works. Hayden has done what most people consider a very good job at NSA, serving longer than his predecessors and working to solve problems that baffled others. he also is respected in the Pentagon which will be important.


Bethesda, Md.: I am sure that Ambassador John Negroponte is a lovely, capable individual but has no previous experience that qualifies him to head the intelligence community in the United States. This nomination is seriously flawed, and sends a strong message that the status quo prevails -- Donald Rumsfeld wins again.

If the President was serious about filling this critical position with an individual who has the knowledge, leadership capability, and political skills to truly protect America he should have prevailed on Senator McCain.

Walter Pincus: I sincerely doubt that Sen. McCain ever wanted or would have taken this job. Amb. Negroponte's appointment, though a surprise, brings to what people recognize as a job-in-progress, someone the president apparently has learned to trust and someone with wide experience in Washington and with bureaucracies. While he hasn't served within the intelligence community, he certainly has been an active consumer of it who also has had direct involvement in matters where intelligence failed and where it worked.


Washington, D.C.: Is there a name and structure in place for the agency that Negroponte will be heading? Any idea how one would submit a resume to that agency?

Walter Pincus: CIA Director Porter Goss has been working on putting together the structure which will be built out of the current Intelligence Community organization of about 300 people. Where the new office of the Director of National Intelligence will be located was actually an issue in the law. My guess is temporarily it will be out at Langley, but may not. I have no idea where you would apply for a job.


College Park, Md.:
Mr. Pincus --

Do you think one of the reasons President Bush nominated Ambassador Negroponte for this position was to further expose the anger and resentment of the liberals? Judging by some of the questions you have taken thus far, I would assume that Mr. Negroponte's skills and background for this new position are irrelevant to some -- they just want to use liberal talking pints from 10 years ago to try and bash the Bush administration. Your thoughts?

Walter Pincus: I think Amb. Negroponte's past role during Iran-contra, which was an example of the misuse of intelligence and the undertaking of some questionable covert and paramilitary actions, is a legitimate subject for review. Just as his success at the United Nations where he was present when Secretary Powell made his presentation of the "intelligence" on Iraq's chemical, biological, and chemical weapons.


San Antonio, Tex.: "He also didn't plan to stay in Iraq for much longer and there are many more qualified potential ambassadors for Baghdad than there were candidates for the Director job."

Walter, did you expect that Bush would pick Negroponte, if according to your remarks earlier in this online chat, you indicted there was a very narrow field of candidates from Bush could choose? Do you know the names of the other individuals whom Bush may have been considered? Do you yourself think that Negroponte is the most qualified candidate for the position? How do you think Negroponte will fare if/when he's installed into the post of intel czar, especially in global territories such as Pakistan and North Korea?

Walter Pincus: Like other journalists, we had a list of possible candidates, some put forward by members of Congress. Remember there was talk of Gov. Tom Kean and Rep.Hamilton, the former chairmen of the 9/11 commission and John Lehman, the former Navy secretary and commission member. Also Admiral Studeman, a former dpeuty director of CIA and Gen. Tommy Franks. So there were others.
Unless you know who was seriously considered, you don't know who was "best qualified" and my view is not the one that counts. Only the president judges that and given some of the others listed, Amb. Negroponte is certainly at or near the top.


Los Angeles, Calif.: What to make of The ambassadors shortened tenure in Bagdad -- certainly one of the most important and far reaching embassy posts.

Walter Pincus: I remember talking to Amb.Negroponte before he went out and to him building up a good embassy team and preparing the recent election were key factors He never saw it as a long-term position having left his wife and family back here in the States.


Berwyn, Pa.: Now that we have a NID, when will Congress get working on reforming the myriad of committees overseeing the Intelligence Community as recommended by the 9/11 Commission?

Walter Pincus: I think you have seen both the beginning and end of any reform in congressional oversight. But you may see some changes in the Director of National Intelligence legislated structure.


Centreville, Va.: Good morning,

Will Ambassador Negroponte have complete control over the intelligence budget?

Walter Pincus: As Director he will have final say overabout 80% of the more than $40 billion budget of the whole community, though remember the individual agencies submit their requests through him to the Office of Management and Budget. The remaining 20% is for militayr intelligence operations and on that segment, the Defense Sectrary makes the call though negroponte has an input.


Latta, S.C.: Will Negroponte be subject to Senate confirmation? Will he have the power to remove the Director of CIA?

Walter Pincus: The Senate must confirm Negroponte and the CIA director remains a presidential appointee in his own right, serving at the pleasure of the president. Negroponte could recommend a change at CIA, but Bush would have to do it.


Toyama, Japan: I am still a little confused as to Negroponte's qualifications. It doesn't seem like an ambassador would have much control over intelligence assets in his embassy; how does his State Department experience qualify him for the job of "Intelligence Czar?"

Walter Pincus: Under the current structure, an ambassador has control over all U.S. elements within his country including the intelligence agencies. Some ambassadors are political appointees and don't exercise the control they legally have over the mission. I have known some who didn't want to know what the CIA station wwas doing. But Negroponte's experience is such that he did stay abreast of all activities and that's why as a consumer for years he has experience.

That's about all the time I have. Thanks for the questions and perhaps our story tomorrow will answer the ones I didn't get to.


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