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America's first intelligence czar

Bush Thursday named Negroponte as the overall director of intelligence.

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As US ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte already has a tough job. But now he's in line for something that in its own way might be tougher: service as the first US director of national intelligence.

Iraq is dangerous, of course, and its politics intense.

In Washington, however, Ambassador Negroponte may find that the DNI post comes with unprecedented responsibility, and less power than advertised.

If confirmed by the Senate, Negroponte will be expected to set overall budgets for a constellation of US intelligence agencies, many of which might fight major changes he wishes to make.

By law, he'll be the president's chief adviser on intelligence matters - but he'll have no direct control over actual intelligence operations.

What's more, on his very own issues he'll have lots of competition for the president's ear.

"Negroponte is going to have to fend for himself out there, with the ambiguities in the law, and hope he can make it work on the basis of goodwill," says Stansfield Turner, former director of central intelligence.

President Bush announced his pick of Negroponte for the DNI slot at a snap Thursday press conference. It came at a time when the administration was coming under increasing criticism for slowness in trying to fill the job.

On Wednesday, for instance, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D) of West Virginia, the ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, complained publicly of "foot-dragging," and called the delay in naming a DNI "simply unacceptable."

In announcing his choice, President Bush said that Negroponte understands the intelligence needs of US policymakers, plus the need to make intelligence agencies work together.

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

With Negroponte, Bush has a veteran security official whose wide-ranging background may make him an obvious fit for the post.

But Negroponte's confirmation may not be a slam dunk. As ambassador to Honduras from 1981-85, he played a prominent role in aiding the contra rebels in their war with the left-wing Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua.

In past some human rights groups have alleged that Negroponte knew about and did not disapprove of the activities of Honduran death squads funded and partly trained by the CIA. Negroponte has testified that he did not believe death squads were operating in Honduras.


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