WASHINGTON — Retired Vice Adm. Mike McConnell, a veteran of more than 25 years in the intelligence field, will be named by President Bush to succeed John Negroponte as national intelligence director, a senior administration official said Thursday.
Negroponte will move to the State Department to become the No. 2 to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The nominations of McConnell and Negroponte are expected to be announced by Bush on Friday. NBC News reports Bush has scheduled a 9:50 a.m. E.T. statement in the White House Roosevelt Room.
The administration sought to dispel any suggestion that Negroponte’s shift was a demotion. Bush personally reached out to Negroponte, an experienced diplomat, to take over the long-vacant job as deputy secretary of state, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because Bush has not announced the nomination.
Bush also talked personally with McConnell about taking the job as director of national intelligence, overseeing all 16 U.S. spy agencies.
Fiefdoms and friction
Under Donald Rumsfeld’s reign at the Defense Department, there were rivalries and friction between the Pentagon and the intelligence community. Robert Gates, who took over last month for Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, supports McConnell’s nomination to the top intelligence post, the official said.
The personnel shifts in the intelligence community come as Bush is planning to announce changes in strategy for the war in Iraq. That speech — once expected before Christmas — now is not likely before the middle of next week, at the earliest.
Negroponte, who took over in April 2005 as the nation’s first intelligence chief, has held a series of tough posts in the Bush administration and has been at the center of the Iraq debate since before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. He served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. from 2001 to 2004 and ambassador to Baghdad until March 2005 before becoming intelligence chief.
Negroponte’s transition to the State Department must be confirmed by the Senate, as would McConnell’s nomination. Both changes will create new openings for the Democrats to debate the administration’s direction on intelligence and foreign policy.
Robert Zoellick resigned as Rice’s deputy in July to take a position with the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs. She is said to have approached several candidates for what is widely regarded as a plum assignment, going for months without any takers.
New uncertainty for intel chief
Negroponte’s departure creates uncertainty for the position of national intelligence director, which grew out of concerns over intelligence failures before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Congress established the post in late 2004, following the recommendation of the Sept. 11 commission. Bush tapped Negroponte to set up the new office from scratch.
He brought together experts to focus on how the government collects and analyzes intelligence and helped create new organizations, including the National Counterproliferation Center, which studies the spread of weapons.
Yet, it has been at times a struggle for Negroponte and his staff to corral all 16 spy agencies. Critics have questioned whether his staff of 1,500 is becoming another clumsy bureaucracy, even as it tries to avoid the intelligence lapses of 9/11 and Iraq.
In public speeches, Negroponte has praised efforts across government to strengthen intelligence but also stressed its limitations.
“Intelligence is not a panacea — far from it — but we are making progress in intelligence reform, and that is important,” he said recently.
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