Making the last high-level appointment in his administration’s second term, President Bush nominated career diplomat John Negroponte to become the nation’s first director of national intelligence. Also nominated to the post of deputy intelligence director was Lt. General Michael Hayden, who now leads the National Security Agency. Both positions were created after Congress adopted recommendations made by the independent commission that investigated the failures of government leading up to the 9/11 attacks. If confirmed by the Senate, Negroponte will manage the budgets of 15 intelligence agencies, establish new standards among those agencies and ensure that vital intelligence is shared.
Negroponte worked with Henry Kissinger in the National Security Council during the Vietnam War and later served as U.S. ambassador to Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines. President Bush tapped Negroponte to serve as his ambassador to the U.N. and most recently as the first American ambassador to post-invasion Iraq. Negroponte’s most controversial tenure was in Honduras where from 1981 to 1985 he was a key player in coordinating the Reagan administration’s clandestine and illegal attacks on the government of Nicaragua via the Contra army. Negroponte stands accused of being complicit in, or turning a blind eye to massive human rights abuses committed by Honduran military officials supported by the CIA.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Peter Kornbluh, senior analyst with the National Security Archive who discusses Negroponte’s past and why he feels it’s important for the Senate to closely examine this nominee’s attitude toward human rights that could further undermine America’s moral authority.
Peter Kornbluh: There are really three strikes against Negroponte in his tenure, in his very controversial tenure as ambassador to Honduras. First of all, he essentially served as pro consul; he was a throwback to the era of gunboat diplomacy when the United States attachÃ©s would essentially run these little countries in Central America.
The first issue about him is that he was essentially managerially in charge of the Contra war in an extraordinary way for a diplomat. We have declassified documents including memos to President Ronald Reagan saying that Negroponte as ambassador was suggesting 3,000 new AK-47s (rifles) for the leading Contra force, for example — and would the president approve of this recommendation. We have the declassified document with Ronald Reagan’s two little initials, “R. R.,” in the “yes” box.
That’s just an extraordinary thing for an ambassador to be involved in, micromanaging the amount of weapons going to a paramilitary force attempting to overthrow a government with which the United States actually still had diplomatic relations.
The second issue was that after the U.S. Congress decided — because of people like your listeners — that the Contra war should be shut down and cut all aid to the Contras in Honduras, Negroponte was part of a team of people that included Oliver North and others — and frankly, I should say the father of the current president of the United States, who was then vice president, the first George Bush — participated with this team in circumventing congressional restrictions, the congressional cut-off on Contra aid.
Negroponte was instrumental in the bridge of communications between President Reagan and Vice President George Bush and the senior Honduran generals to bribe them, to offer them quid pro quos so that they would continue, and in fact actually step up their support for the Contra war, which was more needed than ever now that the CIA was supposed to get out of the picture and official U.S. funding was no longer there. And of course this kind of segment of the Contra War was funded illegally by funds from the sale of arms to Iran, then flowing and buying arms that then were illegally shipped to the Contras in Honduras.
And the final issue that has haunted him, his career and is the one that I think people are raising the most right now is that he suppressed as ambassador full reporting of the atrocities that were being committed by the Honduran military, particularly its elite special operations unit called Battalion 316, which was working very closely with the CIA and which was clearly involved in death squad activity, in murdering suspected leftists, anybody who was thought to be supportive of Nicaragua or against the military government of Honduras. And even though the scale of human rights atrocities were lower in Honduras than in other countries that we were doing the same thing in, Guatemala etc., but there were a number of murders there and it became very controversial. The human rights record of the Honduran military threatened to give Congress more ammunition to cut off aid to Honduras. So, Negroponte as ambassador essentially appears to have told the CIA and the diplomats there, the attaches there not to report on the atrocities of Battalion 316.
Between The Lines: Why is it important in your view that John Negroponte be scrutinized closely for his conduct as ambassador in Honduras, during these upcoming confirmation hearings for his new position as director of national intelligence?
Peter Korbluh: There are several reasons. One is that Negroponte may well have misled the U.S. Congress in terms of his knowledge of human rights abuses in Honduras and the degree to which he had intelligence, as ambassador, on this and tried to distort that information getting back to Washington. You don’t want somebody in this most important role of intelligence czar, who has a background of distorting the truth and misleading the Congress of the United States. Congress needs an honest broker to be the person that shares with it the information on our intelligence needs and the threats against the United States of America.
Two, you don’t want somebody who has a track record of turning his back on human rights abuses involved with a situation where we’re already in a very controversial and dire strait with the atrocities that are going on, the torture of detainees in various secret detention camps around the world.
You would want somebody who had some rectitude on that issue and could step forward and say, “You know what, our intelligence needs are not served by this type of abuse and it needs to end now. Weâ€™re going to do it a different way. We’re going to cease and desist these immoral and reprehensible activities. Not only should a civilized country never engage in this, but they actually don’t help us to learn what we need to know about the future threats to our country.” And those are two reasons why he would not appear to be the best candidate for this position.
I would have preferred to have seen somebody who had a long history of intelligence and knew the intelligence community. John Negroponte as a lifelong ambassador, even one who participated very heavily in a paramilitary war against Nicaragua, was a consumer of intelligence. So, he certainly knows the whole issue of how intelligence flows to the top, what quality it has. But in terms of managing these various intelligence bureaus, in terms of knowing the intricacies of how they work, he has not personally worked in any of them. And now he has been asked to coordinate all of them.
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“Negroponte, a Torturer’s Friend,” by Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive, April 21, 2004
Peter Kornbluh is a senior analyst with the National Security Archive
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending March 4, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.