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US Intelligence Chief Vows to Protect American Civil Liberties 

The U.S. Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, says the intelligence community puts high priority on protecting the privacy and civil liberties of Americans. He spoke to business leaders Monday at a luncheon sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

As the U.S. government steps up its efforts to strengthen security, critics have charged that these developments are coming at the expense of civil liberties.

The U.S. intelligence chief, John Negroponte, told business leaders that as American intelligence agencies continue to consolidate and reform, protecting the privacy and civil liberties of Americans is an important concern.

"This is sensitive work in a nation with our political culture and traditions," he said. "We are looking to bring intelligence to America in a way that has never before been attempted or been necessary, but it is necessary now."

He added that in what he described as the current "new age of information sharing and access," it may be necessary to "amend or create rules, policies and processes" as a means to protect civil liberties.

He criticized recent media reports about a U.S. government program that monitors international bank transfers. Negroponte said these so-called information leaks harm the U.S. government's efforts to work with private American companies.

"They significantly complicate the ability of the United States government to cooperate quietly with patriotic and concerned businesses to defend our country, and they damage our clandestine capabilities to track those who seek to do us harm," he said. "Rest assured that the intelligence community will work to protect the confidentiality of its arrangements, so that we and those that would help us can continue to protect our nation, our citizens and our way of life."

The Bush administration has criticized the newspaper reports, saying they revealed sensitive information and undermined U.S. national security. The New York Times and other U.S. newspapers that ran the story have defended their decisions, saying they acted in the public interest.

Meanwhile, the U.S. intelligence official added that Washington's concern over North Korea's nuclear programs was underscored by the communist country's missile tests last week.

"We know that North Korea has enough fissile material to construct nuclear weapons," he said. "We don't know for absolute certainty that they have nuclear weapons, although the intelligence community assesses that they do. And, in addition, we know that they have considerable capabilities in the area of missile technology."

He called North Korea "a particularly serious situation." He added that the United States has attached great importance to resuming the six party talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis. The talks include the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.