The nation's spy chief disclosed for the first time Thursday the number of U.S. intelligence personnel worldwide: The force totals nearly 100,000.

In a speech at the National Press Club marking his first year on the job, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte indicated his willingness to make some, normally classified information public.

He provided one previously secret fact: "The U.S. intelligence community comprises almost 100,000 patriotic, talented and hardworking Americans in 16 federal departments and agencies."

"To the extent that the requirements of secrecy permit, the country should know what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how well they are doing it. Public understanding is important," Negroponte later added.

In the hourlong session, he also touched on a number of other issues.

Negroponte said perspective is needed on Iran's nuclear program and noted that Tehran may not have a weapon for years — perhaps into the next decade.

He said it is important for Iraq to form a new government soon to take on the challenges posed by sectarian violence.

And Negroponte discussed the changes made within the spy agencies to prevent mistakes similar to those made on the prewar Iraq intelligence. He called it the "WMD fiasco."