President Bush has tapped John Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to Iraq since June, as his nominee to become the nation's first national intelligence director.
If confirmed by the Senate, Negroponte, 65, would be charged with coordinating the activities of 15 U.S. intelligence agencies -- including the CIA -- in a position created in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Negroponte also would control the flow of spy information and the purse strings for intelligence.
'First Line of Defense'
In announcing Negroponte's nomination, Bush said the new director will be key in fighting terrorism.
"John's nomination comes at an historic moment for intelligence services," Bush said. "Intelligence is our first line of defense. We're going to stop the terrorists before they strike. We have to make sure our intelligence agencies work as a single, unified enterprise."
Negroponte, who previously served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations after 9/11, told Bush he was "honored that you will select me to be the first director of national intelligence."
"I appreciate your confidence in choosing me in what will undoubtedly be the most challenging assignment I have undertaken in more than 40 years of government service," Negroponte added.
Bush also nominated Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden to be Negroponte's deputy. Hayden has served as director of the National Security Agency since March 1999.
In announcing his choice, Bush added that Negroponte would be based outside the West Wing of the White House, but that "he will have access on a daily basis in that he'll be my primary briefer."
Bush signed the bill creating the position of national intelligence director on Dec. 17. White House spokesman Scott McClellan explained why the president took his time choosing a nominee.
"This is a position of critical importance and the president wanted to make sure he gets it right," McClellan said, according to The Associated Press. "This individual will have the full authority to do the job that needs to be done and will have the full confidence of the president of the United States."
A senior official directly involved said efforts now will begin to select a new ambassador to Iraq.
"We don't even have a short list yet," the senior official said, adding that Negroponte's successor in Iraq should "certainly be a career foreign service person," not a political appointee.
Experience and Controversy
Negroponte has spent much of his adult life as a U.S. diplomat, serving as ambassador to Mexico and the Philippines in the 1990s, and ambassador to Honduras in the early 1980s. From 1987 to 1989, he served President Reagan as deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs.
Negroponte has been criticized for his work in Honduras, which carried out human-rights abuses during his tenure, though he has denied knowledge of them. He also is suspected of aiding the covert Reagan effort to help the rebel Contras unseat the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua during the period.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was "extremely pleased" by Bush's choices of Negroponte and Hayden.
"Both have significant national security and intelligence backgrounds," Roberts said. "When the ambassador called me this morning, he told me he looks forward to appearing before the committee for his confirmation hearing and seeking our advice as we move forward with the new intelligence reform legislation. We will hold the ambassador's confirmation hearing as soon as his duties in Iraq are completed."
A pair of leading Democrats also expressed eagerness to consider Negroponte's confirmation, but voiced reservations on other fronts.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Negroponte "a very sound choice" with "a record of proven leadership and strong management." But he said the two-month wait for Bush's "overdue" nomination hampered intelligence reform.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he looked forward to hearing Negroponte's plans for the director's job -- but voiced concern "about the message we are sending to Iraq and the rest of the world by removing our ambassador to Iraq so soon after he took office and at such a critical point in the transition to a democratically elected Iraqi government."