As a diplomat in Vietnam, Honduras, the Philippines, Mexico and Iraq, Negroponte would not be expected "to be exposed to the arcane problems, technical issues or dysfunctional budget processes," Laipson said.
That's where his deputy-to-be comes in.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the National Security Agency, which manages the nation's eavesdropping satellites, equipment and analysis, has spent his career in military intelligence. As the director of one of the most insular and protective agency cultures around, he has struggled mightily to improve how the NSA shares with other agencies sensitive conversations and e-mail exchanges between suspected terrorists.
With fierce backing from the families of Sept. 11 victims, the 235-page intelligence bill was meant to be a blueprint for unifying the 15 agencies. But it ended up being so vaguely written that Bush asked a blue-ribbon commission -- originally intended to report on intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction -- to recommend ways to put the legislation into practice. The recommendations will go to the president in the coming weeks, but only as recommendations.
Negroponte, therefore, will step into the job without clear guidance on how to implement the law. But, said his colleagues, he does well in chaotic, ambiguous settings in which the task is to manage and master competing forces.
Iraq was such a situation and he helped pull off successful Iraqi elections there.
"He developed a good understanding of the dynamics of Iraq in a very short time," said Qubad Talabani, U.S. representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and son of one of the leading candidates to be Iraq's next president, Jalal Talabani. "He got along with everyone."
In that regard, Negroponte was "the anti-Bremer," said an Iraqi foreign service official, referring to L. Paul Bremer III, who appeared frequently on worldwide television as the leader of Iraq after the fall of Baghdad.
Negroponte's low-profile gravitas will be tested immediately in the hurly-burly of budget politics, where Rumsfeld, in particular, has proven his ability to outmaneuver opponents seeking control of intelligence funds and operations housed within the defense budget.
"What could be better than someone who has served in all these places where butting heads was necessary, but not outright murder?" joked John MacGaffin, a former senior CIA official. "No one ever accused him of being a 'pass the crumpets' diplomat."
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.