For Negroponte, Move to State Dept. Is a Homecoming

John Negroponte is leaving his Cabinet-level position as national intelligence director to be the deputy at State.
John Negroponte is leaving his Cabinet-level position as national intelligence director to be the deputy at State. (By Evan Vucci -- Associated Press)
By Laura Blumenfeld
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 29, 2007

Above the toilet, in the powder room at John D. Negroponte's house, a framed political cartoon hangs at eye level. In the cartoon, President Bush is congratulating Negroponte on his job as intelligence czar. Near the president, advisers stand holding memos marked "WMD" and "North Korea." They're blowing bubbles, wearing a dunce cap and a beanie.

Bush: "John, you're now in charge of all my administration's intelligence."

Negroponte: "And where would that be?"

Now, less than two years after becoming the nation's first director of national intelligence, Negroponte is leaving. Tomorrow, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will convene hearings on his nomination as deputy secretary of state. From the outside, it seems like an unusual move, a demotion. Negroponte, 67, is stepping down from a Cabinet-level position as the president's top intelligence adviser and coordinator for all 16 U.S. intelligence services to become the No. 2 at State.

But from the inside of Negroponte's Tuscan, mustard-colored Washington home, the mystery of his career move dissipates with the steam from a pot of Earl Grey tea.

"About my life . . .," Negroponte said in his living room on a recent afternoon. He clicked Greek worry beads and sat near a wedding photo of his British wife. "Basically, I'm a diplomat. There's no escaping that. I've done it for so long, I've kind of internalized it."

Speculation over Negroponte's departure has split national security circles. Some question Negroponte's performance as DNI. Rather than unifying the intelligence community, they say, he created another bureaucratic layer. Others say that his step down is in fact a step up, that he will be in line to be secretary of state, if Condoleezza Rice moves on.

Sitting near his fireplace, though, Negroponte suggested another answer. Halfway through his sentence about studying politics in France in college, he blurted out, "All my life, I wanted to do this kind of work."

Negroponte worked for State from the 1960s, when he was a junior political officer in Vietnam, to 2005, when he served as ambassador to Iraq. He has been the U.S. envoy to Mexico, the Philippines, the United Nations and, most controversially, Honduras.

In past confirmation hearings, he has been grilled over his 1981-1985 stint in Honduras, during the Contra buildup. Although the evidence is equivocal, and he denies the allegations, he has been accused of suppressing information about human rights violations by the CIA-backed Honduran military.

The charges have hardened into Negroponte's public legacy from Honduras. His private legacy is another matter.

"Who's that?" Negroponte asked, calling out to a creak on the stairs. "Helllllo?" He paused. Another creaking sound. "Alejandra?"

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