What to Expect at Hayden Confirmation Hearing

Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden testifies before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about his nomination to lead the CIA. Brian Naylor talks with Steve Inskeep about what to expect at Hayden's current confirmation hearing.

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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, he is up for leadership of the CIA. And this time around, the public knows more about the work that Hayden was overseeing in one of his previous intelligence positions.

The National Security Agency, which he once led, has been eavesdropping on U.S. residents without court permission. As today's confirmation hearing for Gen. Hayden got underway, Republican senator, Pat Roberts of Kansas, defended the administrations domestic eavesdropping.

Senator PAT ROBERTS (Republican, Kansas): I have been privy to the details of this effective capability, that has stopped, and if allowed to continue, will again stop, terrorist attacks. Now, while I cannot discuss the program's detail, I can say without hesitation, I believe that the NSA terrorist surveillance program is legal, it is necessary, and without it, the American people would be less safe.

INSKEEP: Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas, speaking at the opening of a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which we're covering this morning. NPR's Brian Naylor is watching that hearing. He's at the Capitol. And Brian, are we expecting every senator to be as accommodating of the NSA's record as Senator Roberts just was?

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

Well, no, Steve. As a matter of fact, we've already heard from one Democrat, Carl Levin of Michigan, who is acting as the vice chairman and the senior Democrat on the panel, was quite critical of the domestic spying program and the efforts by the administration - or the lack of efforts by the administration to explain, exactly, what's going on, or to seek any kind of a legal rationale from Congress. And I expect you'll hear more Democrats taking tough - asking tough questions of Gen. Hayden about that program.

INSKEEP: And, we should mention, this is a hearing on Gen. Hayden and not specifically on the program. How closely linked is he to that program?

NAYLOR: Well, he is, by some accounts, the architect of that program. It was first established under his watch at NSA and, in fact, President Bush, in one of his few public statements about it, said that it was Gen. Hayden - or the NSA, who drew the program up. And so Hayden knows where all of the secrets are, insofar as these programs.

INSKEEP: Well, now, do you get an indication, Brian, as to whether lawmakers are just going to complain about this program and then confirm Michael Hayden, or whether this is something that could actually stop his confirmation.

NAYLOR: I don't think it's going to stop his confirmation, Steve. I think that there is widespread support, it may not be extremely deep support, but I think - Hayden has, as you mentioned before, testified before the Intelligence Committee, he has testified when he was confirmed as the number two person as the new director of national intelligence. He's a well-known figure on Capitol Hill; I think he's got some support.

Having said that, though, there are a lot of people, a lot of Democrats, in particular, who are critics of what's been going on at NSA; and I think you'll be hearing from them. But I don't think that there's any kind of a sense that he's not going to get confirmation.

INSKEEP: So this is an intelligence officer of long experience; he was, for years, at the National Security Agency, where much of this controversy comes from. He was then the number two man in the Office of National Intelligence, which was just created in the last year, or a little more. And now, he's the nominee to be the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. Is there any indication of what he wants to do with that job, if he gets it?

NAYLOR: Well, speaking this morning - he's just begun his opening remarks, and he's kind of laid out a laundry list of issues. He says that the CIA is kind of the most important player on a football field, and that despite the new bureaucracy that's been - that is growing with the new director of national intelligence, that the CIA is still going to be a key player; it needs to get the information first and in the most raw form. He says they need to work on their language skills, they need to work on getting more agents in the field. And I think he wants to take a very proactive approach.

INSKEEP: He wants to work on their blocking and tackling, so to speak.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Brian, thanks very much.

NAYLOR: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Brian Naylor at the Capitol.

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