Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The career diplomat nominated to the new post of director of national intelligence told the Senate yesterday he would make reforming spy agencies a major priority.

John D. Negroponte, an ambassador with more than 40 years of diplomatic experience, was questioned for about three hours by members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on past intelligence failures, including the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and poor estimates of Iraq’s programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

“In the past four years, our homeland has been attacked, and we have miscalculated the arsenal, if not the intent, of a dangerous adversary,” Mr. Negroponte said. “Our intelligence effort has to generate better results.”

Mr. Negroponte said he would seek to impose “fundamental change” to improve coordination among the 15 agencies that comprise the U.S. intelligence community.

He also said his reforms would include closer trust and cooperation among spies and analysts, and “breaking down bureaucratic barriers, establishing priorities, both short term and strategic, and sticking to them.”

“We cannot let another decade tick away without making intelligence reform a reality,” he said.

Mr. Negroponte, a former ambassador to the United Nations and most recently ambassador to Iraq, said he was surprised by the lack of supporting intelligence for Iraq’s weapons program. He said he “believed most of the intelligence” presented on the subject.

He added that he is reviewing what changes to adopt from recommendations of the report of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction and that he would work with the Justice Department, FBI and Homeland Security Department to better coordinate intelligence programs.

Congress has approved $250 million to create the office of the director of national intelligence (DNI). No location has been identified.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, criticized Mr. Negroponte for “ducking” questions about human rights abuses in Honduras during his time as the nation’s ambassador.

Mr. Negroponte said he had not blocked block CIA reporting on human rights issues at the time and had urged the Honduran government to improve its record on the issue.

The presidential commission that investigated the September 11 attacks — which killed about 3,000 people in Pennsylvania, the Pentagon and the World Trade Center — recommended the creation of the DNI as well as a national counterterrorism center.

Under questioning by Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, on whether he would misrepresent intelligence judgment as he said had occurred in the past, Mr. Negroponte said: “My punch line is, I believe in calling things the way I see them, and I believe that the president deserves from his director of national intelligence, and from the intelligence community, unvarnished truth.”

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