Negroponte Moves to Job Considered Crucial at State Dept.

By Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 5, 2007

John D. Negroponte's departure as the nation's first director of national intelligence comes as the two-year-old office and the broad, post-Sept. 11 reorganization that created it have yet to reach the goal of uniting the intelligence community under a single leader.

But Negroponte's move to become Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's deputy, and his replacement by retired Navy Adm. John M. McConnell, had little to do with any assessment of Negroponte's tenure or with the unfinished state of intelligence integration, a range of senior administration officials said.

Instead, it stemmed directly from the urgent need to fill a State Department job, vacant since early last summer, that was seen as crucial to implementing the new Iraq policy that President Bush plans to announce next week.

Negroponte will take charge of State's Iraq account as the administration begins a sharply uphill effort to turn around a failing war and persuade the new Democratic Congress to follow its lead. A career diplomat who served as Bush's ambassador at the United Nations and in Baghdad before becoming intelligence chief in April 2005, Negroponte will also have primary responsibility for policy toward China and Northeast Asia, especially the North Korean nuclear issue. Rice will focus on Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and other issues.

"This is a key job, a really important job," said one State Department official, who noted that other senior vacancies remain. "We've had a thin bench."

Rice broached the subject with Negroponte last summer, but the White House refused to consider his departure until a replacement had been arranged, one official said. As with several others who agreed to discuss the matter, he requested anonymity before the nominations, which must be confirmed by the Senate, are announced today.

By fall, several candidates for the intelligence position, including Gen. John P. Abizaid, head of the military's Central Command, had turned it down. Others considered as Rice's deputy -- among them NATO military chief Gen. James L. Jones -- were similarly uninterested. The White House decided to postpone consideration of the issue until after the November midterm elections.

McConnell had already turned down an offer to become Negroponte's intelligence deputy -- a job vacated last spring when Gen. Michael V. Hayden became CIA director. It was only over the Christmas holidays, when Bush and Vice President Cheney appealed to McConnell to leave his private-sector position as senior vice president of the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to take the lead intelligence job, that a deal was struck. Bush telephoned Negroponte, on vacation in Florida, to revive Rice's request.

Word of Negroponte's replacement was met with some concern on Capitol Hill yesterday. Senate intelligence committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) said he was "troubled by the timing" and that the committee was neither consulted nor apprised of the moves before they became public on Wednesday.

He praised Negroponte for building the director of national intelligence (DNI) office "from scratch," but said the creation of a truly integrated intelligence community needs to move faster.

Susan Collins (R-Maine), who as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee shepherded the reform bill in 2004, said she is disappointed that Negroponte is leaving. She called it "a critical time in establishing the authority of the DNI, and he was making progress."

Former House intelligence committee chairman Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said he is troubled that virtually all of the nation's senior intelligence positions will now be filled by military officers: McConnell, Hayden at the CIA, retired Vice Adm. John Scott Redd at the National Counterterrorism Center and retired Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr., who has reportedly been chosen by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates as undersecretary for intelligence.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company