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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 February 2005, 20:28 GMT
Bush's new intelligence man
By Adam Brookes
BBC News, Pentagon

America has a new chief of intelligence.

He takes up the job at a time when US foreign policy is critically dependent on information gathered covertly.

Understanding the intentions of violent Islamic extremists or the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea requires planting agents and stealing secrets.

John Negroponte and George W Bush
Negroponte is seen as loyal to the Bush administration

So the 65-year-old John D Negroponte is something of a surprise choice to fill the newly created post of director of national intelligence.

Mr Negroponte is not an intelligence professional. But, as a career diplomat, he is a lifelong "consumer" of intelligence.

He has been ambassador to Mexico, the Philippines, Honduras and the United Nations.

In the late 1980s, he was deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs.

An analyst with close links to the intelligence agencies told the BBC: "Negroponte understands how the pieces fit together in intelligence and in government. And he's loyal, which is crucial to the Bush administration."

Mr Negroponte's willingness to serve the Bush administration in trying circumstances is clear from the fact that, since May last year, he has been the US ambassador in Baghdad.

He arrived as the insurgency in Iraq flared in cities around the country, and Americans were stunned by the insurgents' ferocity.

"He picked up the Iraq mess and shepherded it through to elections," said the analyst.

Controversial past

But over the years, Mr Negroponte has cut a controversial figure.

In the early 1980s, he was ambassador to Honduras.

At the time, the US was deeply engaged in covert operations in Central America - notably against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

Negroponte understands how the pieces fit together in intelligence and in government. And he's loyal, which is crucial to the Bush administration
Intelligence analyst

What Mr Negroponte knew about these murky operations, and how far he was aware of human rights abuses committed by US clients in the region is, for some in the US, an open question.

Mr Negroponte has denied any such knowledge or involvement.

One particularly hard-nosed analyst in Washington pointed out, however, that a familiarity with covert operations, counter-insurgency and the abilities and limits of America's secret power is exactly what a man in Mr Negroponte's position needs.

Mr Negroponte's biggest task now will be to restore the credibility of US intelligence.

The previous director of the CIA, George Tenet, reportedly told George Bush that Iraq certainly possessed weapons of mass destruction.

The failure, after the war, to find those weapons - as well as the intelligence agencies' failure to detect and prevent the 11 September plotters - led to a slew of congressional and independent investigations.

Chief among them, the 9/11 Commission found what it said were serious flaws in the way US intelligence agencies operated and interacted.

Legislation signed by President Bush last December calls for a re-organisation of the way the intelligence agencies - all 15 of them - are managed.

Mr Negroponte's job - director of national intelligence - is a child of that legislation.

The post is intended to centralise authority and leadership in intelligence.

"If we're going to stop the terrorists before they strike," said Mr Bush, "we must ensure that our intelligence agencies work as a single, unified enterprise."

Working worries

If the post goes as planned, Mr Negroponte will brief the president every morning.

His will be the voice of the "intelligence community" in presidential decision-making.

He will oversee the establishment of a new, inter-agency operation to track terrorists, the National Counter-Terrorism Center.

Above all he will set the priorities for America's spies: How much effort and money should go on sophisticated satellites and signals interception equipment? And how much should be devoted to cultivating human spies? Should the agencies focus on simply gathering and analysing information? Or should covert operations be a priority?

But exactly how this new post will work is not clear.

Critics of the legislation argue it adds an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, weakens the operational management of agencies like the CIA, and opens up the possibility of a political appointee filtering intelligence information for political reasons.

The president said Mr Negroponte will have budgetary authority over all the intelligence agencies, and would have the authority to order what kind of intelligence is collected and how.

On the face of it, that is true power.

But until now a large chunk of the intelligence budget - perhaps about 80% - has been controlled by the Department of Defense.

Huge intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency, for example, have always reported to the Pentagon.

Senior military officers have expressed worries that any diminution of that authority might affect their ability to operate. In fact, military officers privately say they need more authority over intelligence, not less.

Wise man and professional

Those military worries appear to be addressed by the appointment of a deputy to Mr Negroponte.

He is Lt Gen Michael Hayden, currently head of the National Security Agency.

He is a career Air Force and intelligence officer.

In the turf wars to come over who controls the funding and deployments of US intelligence, it seems likely that Mr Negroponte will be the political wise man, and Lt Gen Hayden the professional.

Their task is enormous. America sees itself as at war.

Terrorism, Islamic extremism and nuclear proliferation are all seen in Washington as constant and complex threats. And US intelligence would rather be known for its successes than its failures.

Bush names new intelligence chief
17 Feb 05 |  Americas
Bush passes US intelligence bill
17 Dec 04 |  Americas
Spy chiefs face uncertain times
08 Dec 04 |  Americas
Profile: John Negroponte
17 Feb 05 |  Americas

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