WASHINGTON -- John Negroponte, President Bush's choice as the first director of all US intelligence activities, told senators yesterday that reforming the various spy agencies will be a central focus of his new job.
But at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Negroponte declined to specify what he will do about changes recommended by recent commissions that have been critical of US intelligence-gathering. He said he is studying their findings.
''Our intelligence effort has to generate better results," said Negroponte, a veteran of the diplomatic establishment and, most recently, Bush's ambassador to Iraq. ''That's my mandate, plain and simple."
Negroponte, whose approval by the committee and the full Senate are not in doubt, fended off suggestions by Democrats that he may not be an impartial arbiter of intelligence. To make their point, Democrats cited his record as ambassador to Honduras during the tumult there in the 1980s.
''I believe in calling things the way I see them, and I believe that the president deserves from his director of national intelligence and from the intelligence community unvarnished truth," Negroponte told the panel.
But Negroponte also said he thinks intelligence has limits.
''Even if we cannot know every fact or predict every threat, by working more closely and effectively as a team we can be more specific about what we do not know, and that is critical," he said, later noting the need for a ''single intelligence community that cooperates seamlessly."
Negroponte's comments directly addressed recent failures, in which the intelligence community overstated the threat posed by Iraq in the run-up to the 2003 invasion, was unable to prevent the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been repeatedly criticized for bureaucratic infighting.
But some of the most heated criticism involved his record as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. Human rights groups have alleged that Negroponte acquiesced in abuses by Honduran death squads funded and partly trained by the CIA. Negroponte has repeatedly said that he did not believe death squads were operating there.
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said he saw a pattern of ''ducking the facts."
''We are making a call now about your judgment," Wyden said. ''It looks to me that you saw things through an administration-colored lens," Wyden said.
Senators said they were aware of the challenges Negroponte faces. Committee chairman Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, said Negroponte will be stepping on toes during his new job, as some intelligence professionals need leadership as well as ''a kick in the pants" when they are not sharing information with one another.
The intelligence community's shortfalls are the reason Negroponte's job was created.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the intelligence community has come under fire for its performance leading up to the suicide hijackings and later, its prewar estimates of the threat posed by Iraq.