It could be well into March before Negroponte's confirmation hearings take place, since he must first return to Baghdad to wrap up his duties there. His confirmation hearing may revisit his service as ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, when the Honduran military's Battalion 3-16, which had received CIA training, took part in the torture and killing of citizens accused of being rebels. Reports filed by Negroponte's embassy at the time did not note the human rights violations.
Negroponte's nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2001 was delayed for months because human rights groups protested his role in Honduras. At the hearings, he testified that he did not think the death squads operated in that country. He has said he served "honorably and conscientiously in a manner fully consistent with and faithful to applicable laws and policies."
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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In the new post, Negroponte would not only oversee the nation's combined intelligence budget of $40 billion a year but would also set intelligence collection and analytic priorities, ensure sharing of information among agencies, and establish standards for all intelligence personnel. He is "moving in uncharted waters, and he has a lot of turf that he has to defend or reconstruct," said Judith Yaphe, a former senior CIA analyst who is now with the National Defense University.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters yesterday that he thinks Negroponte has done "an absolutely first-class job in Iraq" and that the ambassador is "clearly an excellent choice" to be intelligence chief.
Rumsfeld has testified at congressional hearings that he is concerned about the power an umbrella intelligence director might wield over the Defense Department and budgetary matters, but he said those concerns could be worked out.
He said discussions are ongoing about the relationship between the CIA and Pentagon officials on their respective roles in paramilitary operations.
Retired ambassador Frank G. Wisner, a close friend of Negroponte's, said the challenge in taking the job is that "he will set the standard for those to come."
Negroponte's name did not arise in the early speculation that swirled around the new intelligence post, which had mentioned former CIA director Robert M. Gates, current CIA Director Porter J. Goss and retired Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks as candidates. But in the past few weeks, after some candidates were hesitant about the job, the White House focused on Negroponte after it became clear that he wanted to leave his Baghdad post.
He was contacted by White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., who began a series of conversations. Those resulted in a meeting with Card on Saturday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. On Monday, Negroponte met with Bush and others to discuss progress in Iraq. Afterward, he was invited to the Oval Office with Bush and Card, where he was offered the job.
Staff writers Robin Wright and Josh White contributed to this report.