Task Ahead: How to Be a Spy Czar ; Negroponte's Confirmation Hearing Hints at Strategies

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Experts to John Negroponte: If confirmed by the Senate, you'll be the first true czar of US intelligence. Make sure you act the part. Redirect a spy satellite. Change some figures in a budget. Fire somebody. Or promote them.

Don't pick a fight for a fight's sake, but throw your weight around at the first good opportunity - and make sure the White House goes along.

Otherwise, the CIA and the Defense Department may decide they can take your lunch money. And then last year's big intelligence reform bill won't have reformed much at all.

"The most important thing for him to do is to somehow establish that he's in charge, and that the president is going to back him up," says former director of central intelligence Stansfield Turner.

At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday, Mr.Negroponte declined to outline any specific actions he might take in his first days on the job. He said he is still poring over the recommendations of the numerous recent commissions on US intelligence, which overall have been highly critical of past intelligence agency performance.

He did say, however, that he understands the imperative that led the Congress and the White House to create the new post of director of national intelligence.

"Our intelligence effort has to generate better results. That's my mandate pure and simple," said Negroponte.

A veteran of tough US government jobs, Negroponte served most recently as US ambassador to Iraq. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of his career was his stint in the early 1980s as ambassador to Honduras. Critics claimed that he ignored death-squad activity by the Honduran military at a time when the Reagan administration was trying to roll back communist insurgencies throughout the region.

Nonetheless, Negroponte seems a lock for confirmation. Democrats on the intelligence panel said they were more concerned about recent intelligence failures than the nominee's personal history. "I am interested in mainly the massive intelligence failures of the intelligence community, and whether or not he is going to help correct and address the abysmal failures of accountability and responsibility there," said Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, a senior minority member of the committee.

That won't be an easy job. For one thing, the 200-plus page law that established Negroponte's new position is not as specific about the job's powers as it might be.

The most important ambiguities deal with Negroponte's authority over the budget, his authority with respect to the other leaders of the intelligence community, and his overall ability to conduct performance reviews, says William Webster, a former director of central intelligence and the FBI. …