Former Senator Backs Hayden to Head CIA

Former Democratic Sen. Bob Graham of Florida — who once headed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — says his former colleagues should approve the president's nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden to head the CIA. The committee is expected to take up the Hayden nomination later this week. This is the first of two opposing commentaries on the Hayden nomination.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Senate Intelligence Committee begins hearings this week on President Bush's nominee to run the CIA, Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of the National Security Agency. Former Senator Bob Graham, a Democrat who once chaired the Intelligence Committee, has the first of two commentaries on the Hayden nomination.

Mr. BOB GRAHAM (Former Chair, Senate Intelligence Committee): I strongly urge the expeditious confirmation of General Hayden. While I was Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I worked on an almost daily basis with Gen. Hayden. He is a man of incisive intellect, strong personal character, and quiet, confidence-inspiring demeanor. During the months prior to 9/11, Mr. Dick Clark, the counter-terrorism czar, stated that 80 to 90 percent of our quality intelligence came from the National Security Agency.

There are two primary concerns raised about Gen. Hayden's nomination: his military status and his role in the administration's program of warrant-less wiretapping. Both of these criticisms raise the question of the General's willingness to be an independent voice - in CIA jargon, to speak truth to power.

I have seen Hayden stand up to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. In the run-up to the Iraq war, there was a very contentious disagreement between the military and the civilian intelligence agencies over the nature of America's satellite architecture. Gen. Hayden favored the position of the civilians for a more nimble and flexible system, and successfully stood down Rumsfeld's wishes for more of the same large and static machines.

In 2004, while Congress was considering the reform of the intelligence agencies, the general supported a strong civilian leadership, again clashing with and prevailing over the desires of the Department of the Defense for more military control.

The nature and specifics of the warrant-less wiretapping program are shrouded in such secrecy that it is difficult to evaluate the significance of Gen. Hayden's support for the program. The mystery has deepened with recent allegations that telephone records of millions of Americans were collected. From what I do know, I question the legality and the utility of the program. However, I am prepared to give Gen. Hayden the benefit of the doubt. Probing questions about the warrant-less wiretaps should be the centerpiece of his week's Senate Confirmation Hearings.

There is nothing the CIA needs more than continuity of effective leadership. This complex agency cannot work when its directors are on a revolving door that turns every 18 to 36 months. In his service at the NSA, Gen. Hayden has demonstrated that he has earned the confidence of presidents of both political parties. If confirmed, I predict that Gen. Hayden will be asked to serve the next president, whoever that might be, in January of 2009.

The Director of the CIA has been said to be the most important position in the land for our personal and national security. The responsibility requires the surest and most visionary leadership. Gen. Michael Hayden is that man.

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MONTAGNE: Former Senator Bob Graham is a senior fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. His most recent book is Intelligence Matters.

Tomorrow, we'll hear another point of view on the Hayden nomination. At npr.org, you can read more about what we know and what we don't know about the NSA's domestic surveillance program.

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