President Bush nominated John D. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, yesterday to be director of national intelligence, ending a long search to fill the newly created job overseeing the nation's 15 spy agencies.
Negroponte is slated to fill a post intended to prevent a repetition of the intelligence failures that preceded the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and led to overstatements regarding Saddam Hussein's weapons programs. If confirmed by the Senate, he will replace the CIA director as the nation's top intelligence official, setting budgets and priorities for national intelligence agencies and filtering the sensitive information about terrorist and other threats presented to the president.
John D. Negroponte, with President Bush, said he was "honored" to be the first person named to the new position.
(Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
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"John will lead a unified intelligence community and will serve as the principal adviser to the president on intelligence matters," Bush said.
The nomination comes two months after Bush signed into law the broadest restructuring of the nation's intelligence services in more than half a century. Some people in the intelligence community and on Capitol Hill view the time it took to fill the post as a consequence of lingering questions over how much authority the new director would have. While the director will by law oversee the nation's foreign and domestic intelligence agencies, he will have only several hundred employees, leaving him reliant on the CIA, FBI and Pentagon agencies to collect and analyze intelligence and carry out covert operations.
Negroponte also would oversee the new National Counterterrorism Center, which will be central to the war on terrorism, though its director, also a presidential appointee, will report directly to Bush on counterterrorist operations.
In comments to reporters, Bush made it clear that he would look to Negroponte as his top intelligence official, not just in title but also in fact. "When the intelligence briefings start in the morning, John will be there," Bush said. "And John and I will work to determine how much exposure the CIA will have in the Oval Office. I would hope more rather than less."
Negroponte said he was "honored" to be selected. Standing next to Bush, he said, "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. . . . Equally important will be the reform of the intelligence community in ways designed to best meet the intelligence needs of the 21st century."
Creating the post was a key recommendation of the national commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The law resulting from the commission's work, as modified by Congress, reorganizes the nation's intelligence-collecting and analytic agencies in a way that proponents hope will lead to better coordination and communication among them.
Bush, who initially resisted some of the recommendations, said yesterday that the new structure will make the nation safer. "If we're going to stop the terrorists before they strike, we must ensure that our intelligence agencies work as a single, unified enterprise," he said. "And that's why I supported and Congress passed reform legislation creating the job."
Yesterday, Bush also named Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, head of the National Security Agency, which collects electronic intelligence, to be Negroponte's deputy. Hayden, who has run the NSA for almost six years, was a White House choice for the deputy post even before Negroponte was picked.
In selecting Negroponte, 65, Bush is turning to someone with 40 years' experience as a diplomat abroad and a senior official in Washington. Among the jobs he has held are U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and ambassador to the Philippines, Mexico and Honduras.
"He understands the power centers in Washington," Bush said, adding that he also has another key qualification. "His service in Iraq during these past few historic months has given him something that will prove an incalculable advantage for an intelligence chief: an unvarnished and up-close look at a deadly enemy."
The choice of Negroponte drew bipartisan praise from the top members of the Senate and House intelligence committees. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate panel, said he was "extremely pleased." Roberts and his counterpart on the House side, Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), noted in separate statements that Negroponte and Hayden have significant national security and intelligence backgrounds.
Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House intelligence panel, has known Negroponte for years and spoke to him yesterday after his appointment. "I told him he had traded the Green Zone for the hot zone," she said.