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Published: Wednesday, 4/13/2005

Potential director of intelligence says he'll tell it straight


WASHINGTON - John Negroponte, President Bush's nominee to be the nation's first national intelligence director, pledged yesterday that he would never fail to "tell truth to power."

He also vowed not to color intelligence to suit a president's policies.

Mr. Negroponte was pelted with warnings that he is about to undertake one of the toughest jobs in Washington.

He was questioned at a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which must advise the Senate whether to confirm Mr. Negroponte.

His confirmation is generally considered certain.

Democrats pressed him to denounce intelligence failures that preceded the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and others that led to the White House's insistence before the war in Iraq that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, a position that gave rise to charges that intelligence too often has been politicized.

Mr. Negroponte did not criticize others in the intelligence community, but said he did not know who specifically was accountable for a series of intelligence failures. And he stressed that intelligence gathering and analysis are not policymaking.

Under persistent questioning by Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.), he promised to tell policymakers in the White House exactly what the country's 15 intelligence agencies discover.

Mr. Levin noted that, before the Iraq war, former CIA director George Tenet had said it was a "slam dunk" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, although they have never been found. Mr. Levin also said former CIA director William Casey had "misused intelligence" during the Iran-Contra scandal.

Mr. Negroponte would not comment on either case but 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."

Committee Republicans and Democrats said they are concerned that, under the law Congress passed last year creating the new post of national intelligence director, Mr. Negroponte would not have all the authority or money they said he would need to unify the intelligence community and intervene in what they called "inevitable" turf wars.

Some questioned a new Department of Defense personnel slot, created by Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, which they think is aimed at forcing Mr. Negroponte to go through channels in dealing with defense intelligence.

Mr. Negroponte said he will consult with that person but also deal with each agency directly. He also called the people in the intelligence community "talented, patriotic Americans." And he said Mr. Bush has promised to support him.

Republicans and Democrats stressed their view that the new post will be one of the most difficult and stressful in government. They said repeatedly that Mr. Negroponte is a good choice. He has more than 40 years in government and has served as ambassador to the United Nations and to Iraq.

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