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President Names Negroponte National Intelligence Chief

The president said at a White House press conference, ”The director’s responsibility is straightforward and demanding.”

“John will make sure those whose duty it is to defend America have the information we need to make the right decisions.”

Negroponte, a career diplomat, was named U.S. ambassador to Iraq in April 2004 but was tapped to head the new intelligence agency because of his grasp on global intelligence and his understanding of “the power centers in Washington,” according to the president.

Negroponte also served as ambassador to the United Nations, the Philippines, Mexico and Honduras before landing in Iraq to help transform the U.S. image from one of occupier to adviser, according to the Associated Press.

Negroponte called his new position “the most challenging assignment I have undertaken in more than 40 years of government service.”

Lt. Gen. Mike Hayden, current director of the National Security Agency, will serve as Negroponte’s deputy.

The role of national intelligence chief emerged an investigation into lapses before the Sept. 11 attacks prompted Congress to overhaul the nation’s intelligence efforts in 50 years. As part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Bill of 2004 and in response to what members saw as failures in communication between the country’s intelligence agencies, Congress called for one position to direct national intelligence.

The new position will oversee 15 agencies including the CIA, according to Reuters, and as its chief Negroponte will be charged with giving the president daily intelligence briefings.

“If we’re going to stop the terrorists before they strike, we must ensure that our intelligence agencies work as a single, unified enterprise,” the president said.

The Senate still must confirm Negroponte but in a statement Thursday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas praised the selection of both 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 new intelligence reform legislation.”

Roberts said the Senate would hold the confirmation hearing once Negroponte’s duties in Iraq are complete — possibly in a few weeks, according to the senator’s spokeswoman Sarah Little.

In 2001, Negroponte’s confirmation to the United Nations was postponed for 6 months following criticism of his stint as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. During that time, critics accused Negroponte of assisting the Nicaraguan Contras in their war against the government and of ignoring human rights crimes by Honduran death squads.

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