U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte ’60 was nominated by President Bush yesterday to serve as director of national intelligence, a new position legislated by Congress last December as a key component in the restructuring of the nation’s intelligence system.
The position was created in response to a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission, which stated the need for a centralizing figure to coordinate information sharing among the Pentagon, the CIA and the FBI. If confirmed by the Senate, Negroponte will oversee the country’s 15 intelligence agencies, as well as direct the $40 billion intelligence budget annually.
“I appreciate your confidence in choosing me for what will no doubt be the most challenging assignment I have undertaken in more than 40 years of government service,” Negroponte told Bush at White House press conference.
University President Richard Levin said he supports Negroponte’s appointment.
“He’s a member of my council on international activities at Yale and he’s a person I have great respect for in his distinguished career as a diplomat,” Levin said.
Negroponte is the third Yale alumnus to be appointed to a high-profile role in national intelligence over the past year; CIA director Porter Goss ’60 was appointed to his position last September and Stephen Hadley LAW ’72 was chosen in November to replace Condoleezza Rice as National Security Adviser. During a visit at Yale in 2002, Negroponte credited his Yale education for its contribution to his career.
“I majored in political science at Yale, and I still remember my professors,” Negroponte said. “They were an excellent help to me.”
Although Negroponte does not have experience in the intelligence field, it will not hinder his ability in his new role, said Assistant Director of International Security Studies Minh Luong, who teaches the course “Espionage and Economic Intelligence.”
“In order to be successful, you have to be a diplomat,” Luong said. “If there’s one person who has a shot with dealing with [Donald] Rumsfield, Condoleezza Rice and Porter Goss, it’s Negroponte, who has spent literally a career as a diplomat, who brokered all the disagreements between [Colin] Powell and Rumsfeld with his type of behind-the-scenes diplomacy.”
After graduating from Yale, Negroponte went on to fulfill a four-decade tenure in Foreign Service, including an eight-month tenure as ambassador to Iraq and service as the country’s U.N. ambassador. But it was his service as U.S. ambassador to Honduras during the 1980s that caused some to question his role in promoting the efforts by the Contras against the leftist government of Nicaragua.
“That was a highly politicized time with tremendous Washington battles between those who did not want us to fight communism in Central America and those who felt it was necessary,” said Diplomat-in-Residence Charles Hill, who worked with Negroponte as chief of staff at the State Department. “It will be interesting to see if the Senate will make something out of this.”
History professor emeritus Gaddis Smith said he disagreed with the course of action in Nicaragua but does not fault Negroponte for his role.
“I was personally very critical of that,” Smith said. “I thought our policy was misguided, but he carried out the policy of the Reagan administration very effectively. Nicaragua is probably a better place as a result of the bringing down the Sandinistas.”
There has been debate over the extent of power accorded to the position, especially with regard to the Pentagon’s intelligence-gathering functions. The post, relegated to that of a coordinating role, is not invested with all the authority suggested by the 9/11 Commission. It remains a open question whether the position has enough power to exert control over intelligence agencies subsumed by the Pentagon.
At least part of the difficulty arises from the legislation, which was “passed in a hurry” and “not done correctly,” Hill said.
“It’s a sloppy piece of legislation, and the blanks will have to be filled,” Hill said. “The position will be defined by the way the president and Negroponte actually carry it out, so it’s extremely important that the person be the right person for the job. He can’t consult what has been put down on paper for him; he’ll have to define it as he goes along. This springs from the necessity to keep policy distinct from intelligence and analysis; if the two get mixed up, it could be a very bad situation.”
Though the CIA will still be responsible for collecting intelligence information, Negroponte’s authority will supersede that of Goss, who will no longer be the president’s principal intelligence adviser.