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Negroponte says domestic spy program was critical 

Reuters | January 20, 2007 
David Morgan

U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte on Friday cited the Bush administration's recently disbanded domestic spying program as a critically important post-September 11 change in intelligence practices.

In his final public assessment of U.S. espionage reform, Negroponte said the intelligence community's 16 agencies have had significant success in restructuring and integration during his 20-month tenure as the first U.S. director of national intelligence.

"Over the last two years, the (community) has achieved good results," he told an audience of intelligence officials at his office's headquarters in Washington.

"A great deal of structural change has occurred ... in direct response both to our most important past failures and our most important pressing threats."

The 67-year-old spy chief, who has been nominated to become deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, cited specific achievements by agencies including the National Security Agency that has run President George W. Bush's warrantless eavesdropping program.

"NSA has been vital in helping support the global war on terror," Negroponte said.

"In this regard, I would emphasize the critical contributions the terrorist surveillance program has made to protect American lives and interests."

The NSA surveillance program, exposed by The New York Times in December 2005, was authorized by Bush to monitor the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens, without first obtaining a court warrant.

It caused a political uproar among Democrats and some Republicans who said it violated U.S. law.

White House officials defended the program for more than a year, saying the warrantless surveillance that began soon after the 2001 attacks had helped protect against terrorism.

But under threat of investigation by a new Democrat-controlled Congress, the Bush administration announced an end to the program this week and said it would work with a secret federal court that issues warrants for electronic surveillance inside the United States.

Negroponte became intelligence chief in April 2005 with a congressional mandate to oversee sweeping reforms in an intelligence community that had been rocked by huge lapses over the September 11 attacks and prewar Iraq intelligence.

Some in Congress have praised his efforts to foster greater integration and coordination between agencies that were once rivals, such as the CIA and FBI.

But critics have faulted Negroponte, saying he created a new bureaucracy without providing the aggressive leadership needed on intelligence issues.

Bush has nominated retired Navy Adm. Mike McConnell, a former NSA director, to replace Negroponte as intelligence chief.

Negroponte and McConnell both must be confirmed in their new positions by the Senate.

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