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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Negroponte's Exit Planned Ahead of Time

Kenneth R. Timmerman

WASHINGTON -- John Negroponte had been planning his exit as national intelligence czar for the past four months, but agreed not to announce his plans until the White House could find a suitable replacement, sources close to Negroponte told NewsMax in Washington.

NewsMax first learned of Negroponte's decision to resign as director of National Intelligence at the end of September, but held the story because Negroponte and his office vigorously denied it.

Three separate sources said at that time that Negroponte had been telling confidants and associates he was "unhappy" with the long hours and stresses of the job.

His two hour lunches at the University Club in downtown Washington, D.C. had become legendary.

"Negroponte made the same mistake Tenet made," a former senior intelligence official stated. "He's become a member of the White House team, making policy, not providing intelligence."

Some sources said he wanted to return to the State Department as deputy to Condoleezza Rice, with the expectation that he would replace Rice if she resigns later this year to run for president, as many Republican Party insiders believe.

Others who worked with Negroponte said he was considering a move to New York to take a top publishing job.

But when Negroponte's office was phoned in early October to ask about what Negroponte had planned, spokesman Chad Colton denied repeatedly that he was leaving.

"He is not going to resign. He is not planning to resign" Colton said. "He definitely has told me he didn't want to go."

When Negroponte first floated his plans to leave his position, he said he would not announce his resignation until December 2006, well after the mid-term elections. "This is the normal process in the second year of the second term," one associate said. "People start to leave the administration."

One plan floated in late September had Negroponte going to State as Rice's deputy, CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden replacing him as director of national Intelligence, and Hayden's deputy, Stephen Kappes, taking over at CIA.

But that plan was dropped because "Kappes is basically unconfirmable," congressional sources said.

Under the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 that created the director of National Intelligence position, the deputy director of CIA is no longer a Senate-confirmed position, so Kappes was able to be appointed to his current position without a confirmation hearing.

But lingering controversies from his time as head of CIA counterintelligence, as well as his stormy departure from the Agency in November 2004 after Porter Goss took over the reins as CIA director, have generated such deep distrust of Kappes that key Republican senators told the administration they would not support his confirmation.

As director of National Intelligence, Negroponte created a brand new intelligence agency and expanded it more than five times larger than Congress had initially intended.

"He surrounded himself with former State Department officials," one administration source said. "The [director of National Intelligence] looks like the State Department in miniature."

Negroponte gets credit for having led the U.S. intelligence community during a period when there were no major terrorist attacks on American soil.

Asked earlier this year how he judged Negroponte's performance, former top intelligence official Richard Haver stated that it was too early to tell, but that Americans would be able to judge for themselves if he failed.

"The answer will be if we get surprised again, if we are attacked. Because someone always knows in advance that an attack is going to take place. So if there are no more surprises, then either he is very lucky, or he's got it right."

Negroponte is widely believed to have engineered the sudden departure of Porter Goss as CIA director in May 2006.

"There was a deep, personal conflict between Goss and Negroponte that went back to their days at Yale," a former top CIA official said.

In the spring of 2006, Goss had been telling friends and associates that he wanted to leave as director by the end of the year, after the 2006 mid-term elections. When Negroponte learned that, he went to White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, who then confronted Goss and demanded that he resign on the spot, sources said.

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