Hayden Faces Tough Senate Confirmation Hearings

Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden's confirmation hearings begin on Capitol Hill. Hayden is nominated to be the next head of the CIA. Hayden is controversial for his role as head of the NSA, a government spy organization that has reportedly tracked phone calls placed by American citizens.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

General Michael Hayden is familiar with confirmation hearings, but there is something different about the hearing he faces today. Hayden appeared before the Senate just last year on his way to a top intelligence job. Today, Michael Hayden is up for leadership of the CIA. But this time, the public knows more about the work that Hayden was overseeing in one of his previous positions.

Hayden has proven an extremely controversial nominee, in large part, because the National Security Agency, which he once led, has been eavesdropping on U.S. residents without court permission. Hayden defended that practice in January.

General MICHAEL HAYDEN (Appointed to Head CIA; Former Director of the National Security Agency): This is not about intercepting conversations between people in the United States. This is hot pursuit of communications entering or leaving America, involving someone we believe is associated with al-Qaida.

INSKEEP: That's Gen. Michael Hayden and here is NPR's Intelligence Correspondent Mary Louise Kelly. Mary, good morning.

MARY LOUISE KELLY reporting:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How closely linked has Hayden been to the eavesdropping?

KELLY: You know, to the extent that anyone could be said to have become the public face of this program, it's Michael Hayden. He was in charge over at the NSA when this program began. He oversaw it. And, as critically, since this program came to light back in January, he's been the most prominent, public defender of it.

Now, the dynamic shifted a little bit yesterday. The full Senate Intelligence Committee, which will be conducting today's confirmation hearing, finally got a private briefing for the first time. The full committee has now been briefed on this program - programs I should say - because there are now two NSA monitoring programs that have come to light. It's not quite clear how they may be related.

And I suspect the briefing yesterday may have blunted some of the questions that we might have heard today, because senators will have gotten some answers. That said, this is going to be the first time senators have the chance to question Hayden directly and in public, about his role in the program, and I think there will be quite a lot of questions about it.

INSKEEP: Does this also handcuff senators to some degree, Mary Louise, because they can't discuss classified information in public - and now that they know a lot of classified information - they have to be very careful about what they say?

KELLY: Exactly. They have to skirt this issue a little bit, in the public hearings today. And exactly, as you say, they have now learned, all of them, a great deal more about the program than they do - than they knew two days ago. So it will very much change the dynamic at today's hearing. But, again, this is the first time the public has heard anything about this since we've had these latest revelations about, perhaps, a second program. And so I think that you still will get some fairly contentious questioning.

INSKEEP: Now let's talk about the job that Hayden will get, if he is confirmed. What does he want to do, if he becomes the head of the CIA?

KELLY: We haven't heard a lot of specifics yet. The NSA controversy has been so huge that the CIA's role in all of this has almost gotten lost in the shuffle. So that's one thing, I think, we should listen closely for this morning, is what does Hayden want to do at the CIA. But the challenge there is clear: he's got to continue reforming the clandestine service and he's got to do something about morale there.

I mean, you follow the agency and you're told that the sense of - I don't think doom is too strong a word, that has settled over Langley is just pervasive. There's the sense the CIA is in its declining days, and I think Hayden's priority, surely would have to be reversing that, convincing people there they work in an agency that is going to have a future in U.S. intelligence.

INSKEEP: Is anybody sure anymore, what the CIA director really does?

KELLY: That is another question I was, you know, noting that this will be the first time that - you know, General Hayden will be the first person to interview for the job as head of CIA, who will not also become head of overall U.S. intelligence efforts. Intelligence reform has changed the CIA's role completely, and a lot of people there are not sure anymore, whether it is still the Central Intelligence Agency, in all of this.

INSKEEP: And just very briefly, who is this man who will be facing the Senate in the coming days here?

KELLY: Well, he is very widely liked, both on Capitol Hill and in intelligence circles. He has been called by Senator Pat Roberts - who is the chair of the committee, who will be doing today's hearing - as probably the guy in Washington who knows the most about intelligence.

So he's eminently qualified but comes from an interesting background. He grew up in Pittsburgh. His father is a welder. His brother is a truck driver. And he himself, talks about being a working-class guy who drove a taxi to help pay his way through college. And he stays loyal to his hometown. He is, to this day, a huge Steelers fan. So that's another thing to watch for this morning. I suspect we may get a football metaphor or two, thrown in there.

INSKEEP: They'll be watching in Pittsburgh and elsewhere.

KELLY: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Mary Louise, thanks very much.

KELLY: You're welcome...

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