President Bush on Thursday named John Negroponte, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and currently the administration's top representative in Iraq, to be America's first national intelligence director.
It's a sudden job change for Negroponte, a career diplomat.
Announcing the move at the White House, Bush said that Negroponte understands global intelligence needs because he's had a long career in the foreign service.
"John will make sure that those whose duty it is to defend America have the information we need to make the right decisions," Bush said. "We're going to stop the terrorists before they strike."
Responding, Negroponte called the new job "the most challenging assignment I have undertaken in more than 40 years of government service." Said Bush: "He understands the power centers in Washington."
Bush named Lt. Gen. Mike Hayden, who has served as director of the National Security Agency since March 1999, as Negroponte's deputy. He is the longest serving director of the secretive codebreaking agency and has pushed for changes, such as asking longtime agency veterans to retire and increasing reliance on technology contractors.
"If we're going to stop the terrorists before they strike," Bush said, "we must ensure that our intelligence agencies work as a single, unified enterprise."
Negroponte, 65, was at the United Nations when he was tapped to take on the delicate job of transforming the U.S. presence in Iraq from that of an occupier to that of an adviser. Bush chose him for the job last April and he went to Baghdad hours after the handover of sovereignty to Iraq's interim government.
Negroponte has also been ambassador to the Philippines, Mexico and Honduras.
Even before the name was revealed, White House press secretary Scott McClellan defended the lengthy period of time it took to find a nominee.
"This is a position of critical importance and the president wanted to make sure he gets it right," Bush's spokesman said. "This individual will have the full authority to do the job that needs to be done and will have the full confidence of the president of the United States."
The Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington were the impetus for legislation passed by Congress and signed by Bush, creating the new position. The bill represented the most sweeping intelligence legislation in over 50 years.
The director of national intelligence will hold a pre-eminent role in U.S. national security affairs and coordinate the work of all 15 U.S. intelligence agencies.
In a statement, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas, said he was pleased by the selection of Negroponte and Hayden.
"Both have significant national security and intelligence backgrounds. 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 the new intelligence reform legislation," Roberts said. "We will hold the ambassadors' confirmation hearing as soon as his duties in Iraq are completed."
Roberts spokeswoman Sarah Little said Negroponte told the senator he would need to return to Iraq to tie up issues there. Little said that Roberts believes the confirmation may be weeks away.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he was pleased that Bush was filling the positions and said that Negroponte's post "will fill an important role in the transition of our intelligence gathering community, making our country even safer at a time when the terrorist threat is still very real."
As ambassador to the United Nations, Negroponte helped win unanimous approval of a Security Council resolution that demanded Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein comply with U.N. mandates to disarm. Negroponte worked to expand the role for international security forces in Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taliban government.
Negroponte's confirmation to the United Nations post was delayed a half-year mostly because of criticism of his record as the U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. In Honduras, he played a prominent role in assisting the Contras in Nicaragua in their war with the left-wing Sandinista government.
Human rights groups alleged that Negroponte acquiesced in human rights abuses by Honduran death squads funded and partly trained by the CIA. Negroponte testified during the hearings for the U.N. post that he did not believe death squads were operating in Honduras.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., reacting to the news, said, "The number one problem that has plagued our domestic war on terror is that the individual agencies responsible for intelligence gathering still don't share. It is my hope that the president will give the resources and authority to Ambassador Negroponte to turn things around in our disconnected intelligence community."
In the past year, the intelligence community has been faced with a series of negative reports, including the work of the Sept. 11 commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee's inquiry on the flawed Iraq intelligence. And next month, Bush's commission to investigate the intelligence community's capabilities on weapons of mass destruction is also expected to submit its findings.