Hayden a Controversial Pick to Head CIA

Gen. Michael Hayden's nomination comes following the resignation of CIA Director Porter Goss on Friday. President Bush called Hayden "supremely qualified" to run the CIA, but the appointment of a military officer to lead the civilian agency could be contentious.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. With Steve Inskeep in Baghdad, I'm John Ydstie.

In the past hour, President Bush has announced his choice to head the Central Intelligence Agency: Air Force General Michael Hayden, who now serves as Deputy Director of National Intelligence. Speaking in the Oval Office, the President said his nominee is quote "supremely qualified for the position."

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Mike knows our intelligence community from the ground up. He has been both a provider and a consumer of intelligence. He's overseen the development of both human and technological intelligence. He has demonstrated an ability to adapt our intelligence services to the new challenges of the war on terror.

YDSTIE: For his part, General Hayden says there's probably no position more important to U.S. security, than that of CIA director, and he reached out to employees of that organization that he hopes to lead.

General MICHAEL V. HAYDEN (Nominee for CIA Director): To the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency, if I'm confirmed, I would be honored to join you and work with so many good friends. Your achievements are frequently underappreciated and hidden from the public eye, but you know what you do to protect the Republic.

YDSTIE: General Michael Hayden, speaking earlier this hour at the White House. If confirmed by the Senate, Hayden will replace Porter Goss, who resigned under pressure Friday.

For more on today's announcements we're joined by NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. Don, the White House reportedly was unhappy with Porter Goss's leadership at the CIA. What is President Bush looking for from General Hayden?

DON GONYEA reporting:

Well, as we just heard from the President, he gets a knowledgeable expert on intelligence issues. Hayden ran the National Security Agency, the NSA, since 1999. He gave up that job when he became the deputy to the new Director of National Intelligence just last year. So, he's got a long resume.

Additionally, though, what the White House hopes Hayden will mean is an end to turf battles and in-fighting that marked Porter Goss's tenure, particularly clashes with John Negroponte, the director of National Intelligence. Again, that's that new position which oversees all U.S. intelligence agencies, including oversight of the CIA. The White House often had to arbitrate disputes between Goss and Negroponte. The feeling is that given how close General Hayden and Negroponte are, because Hayden has been Negroponte's top deputy, that there will be no more conflict along those lines.

YDSTIE: As you pointed out, Don, Michael Hayden is a prominent figure in the intelligence community, but his nomination has already stirred controversy.

GONYEA: Yes, there's been loud criticism from members of Congress already, already, because over the weekend Hayden's name emerged as the person who was going to get the job. The criticism has come from Democrats and Republicans, including senior members of intelligence committees in the House and Senate on the Republican side.

Here are the two main complaints. One is that Hayden, who, incidentally, was in the Oval Office this morning in his Air Force uniform. He is in the military and there's a feeling that a civilian should head the CIA, that his elevation will give the Pentagon too much weight on intelligence matters. Maybe he won't be as independent as these members would like him to be.

The other complaint -- and this is likely where the big fight will be -- is that General Hayden was the man who started and defended that controversial domestic spying program carried out by the NSA when he was the boss there. The White House calls that a terrorist surveillance program. The bottom line is, though, that domestic phone calls under that program can be tapped without a warrant, without the review of the courts set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. So that has been very controversial as a potential program that violates civil liberties. The President says it's legal. Hayden has been the primary defender of that program.

YDSTIE: So Don, why would President Bush choose a fight on this nomination, given his weak poll numbers and the problems he's already having with Congress?

GONYEA: Well, here's one reason. They look at polls that show the public supports that NSA spy program, so the White House thinks it may not be a bad thing to pick a fight on that issue right now, get a full airing of it on a subject that they see the public supporting them on. It is one of the few areas, if you looked at the polls lately, where the public does give the President decent marks.

YDSTIE: NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. Thanks very much, Don.

GONYEA: A pleasure.

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