CIA Nominee Hayden Goes on Recon Mission
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The day after President Bush nominated him to run the CIA, Air Force General Michael Hayden was on Capitol Hill today. He was meeting with the senators who will vote on his confirmation. Hayden will face questioning from Democrats for his role in warrantless spying and will also face resistance from some key Congressional Republicans who say the CIA needs a civilian at the helm.
NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: General Hayden's most public meeting today was in the office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The two sat in armchairs suggesting the standard tableau at an Oval Office meeting.
Unidentified Man: General! General! One handshake. One handshake.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yes, sir.
Man: That's fine.
WELNA: As the two men posed for photos, four stars on each shoulder of Hayden's blue Air Force uniform glinted in the lights. He said little, except to justify his presence at the Capital.
HAYDEN: My purpose here is to come up and visit and to meet with the members of the leadership, understand their ideas, to learn of any concerns they might have and as I said yesterday, what we're about here is just too important not to get just absolutely right.
WELNA: Majority Leader Frist for his part said he was immensely impressed with Hayden and he called him the ideal man for this point in time. It was a direct rebuttal to the Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra, who's called Hayden the wrong man at the wrong place at the wrong time. Frist also acknowledged that some fellow Republicans, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, are unhappy with a military man heading the CIA.
BILL FRIST: A lot has been made in terms of the uniform, the tremendous experience and leadership that the general has showed on the military side of the equation. I think that's a huge benefit, a huge advantage. And as I talk to my constituents around the country and in Tennessee, they look upon that as a great strength.
WELNA: Hayden told reporters today he hasn't decided whether to retire from the Air Force, but Georgia Republican Saxby Chambless, a critic who's on the Intelligence Committee, said that's not the point.
SAXBY CHAMBLESS: My concern has been not over the fact that Mike Hayden has a military uniform on. My concern relates to the fact that he's been at DOD in intelligence, he's a good guy, he's very smart, very capable, but we're now seeking to transfer a person who has that military DOD experience to a civilian intelligence agency.
WELNA: Another Republican on the Intelligence Panel, Maine's Olympia Snowe, said Hayden will face tough questions.
OLYMPIA SNOWE: Whether or not the kind of independence, which I do think is a, you know, is a fair question to ask given this point in time. There are other points in time we ask military officers to serve. We're at this point in time, where we've structured the intelligence community, that met resistance, strong resistance, vigorous resistance, from the Pentagon.
WELNA: At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld scoffed at reports of a power struggle underway between military and civilian intelligence groups. He declared he clearly supports Hayden's nomination.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Anyone who looks at it obviously understands he's an intelligence professional, is what he is. He did not come up through the operational chain in the Department of Defense and then at the last minute slide over into the intelligence business. He's a person who's had assignment after assignment after assignment in the intelligence business and clearly that is what his career has been. And he's been very good at it.
WELNA: But Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, who spoke yesterday with Hayden, says he's changed his tune considerably since testifying before the Intelligence Panel last year.
RON WYDEN: Oh, I'm going to be asking him, how do we reconcile what you said in public to the Intelligence Committee about this tremendous concern at the NSA for privacy, how they were reluctant even to go up to the line, with him then coming back essentially as a cheerleader for why we ought to have warrantless surveillance.
WELNA: Confirmation hearings on Hayden's nomination are expected to begin next week.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.