WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has persuaded John Negroponte to leave his post as director of national intelligence and come to the State Department as her deputy, government officials said Wednesday night.
Negroponte’s move would fill a crucial hole on Rice’s team. She has been without a deputy since Robert Zoellick left in July for a Wall Street firm, and she is still seeking a U.N. ambassador, a counselor and an undersecretary of state for economic affairs.
Negroponte’s decision to step down as the nation’s top spy for a sub-Cabinet position marks a sudden reversal. Rice had earlier sought to recruit Negroponte – as well as other high-profile figures – for the job, but last month he insisted he was staying at his post.
“In my own mind at least, I visualize staying … through the end of this administration, and then I think probably that’ll be about the right time to pack it in,” he told C-SPAN in an interview broadcast Dec. 3.
He reiterated that commitment in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters on Dec. 14. Negroponte is the first person to hold the post of intelligence czar, created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
NBC News first reported Negroponte’s move to State. NBC said Negroponte’s likely successor as head of U.S. intelligence is retired Adm. John McConnell, who was director of the National Security Agency from 1992 to 1996 under President Bill Clinton. McConnell is now a senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, a Washington contractor and consulting agency.
Government officials Wednesday night declined to say how Rice persuaded Negroponte, 67, though some had suggested earlier that he was unhappy as director of national intelligence and that he would like to return to his roots at the State Department. Negroponte was a Foreign Service officer from 1960 to 1997, serving as ambassador to the Philippines, Honduras and Mexico.
Even with a Democrat-controlled Senate, Negroponte should have little trouble winning confirmation. In the current administration, he has been confirmed as permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations, ambassador to Iraq and director of national intelligence.