Hayden Vows Independence, Honesty as CIA Chief Senate confirmation hearings for Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to be the director of the CIA began Thursday with sharp criticism of Hayden's oversight of past surveillance programs. Hayden says he intends to tell the senators what they need to know, not what they want to hear. Madeleine Brand talks to Larry Abramson about Hayden's testimony and the Senate response.
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Hayden Vows Independence, Honesty as CIA Chief

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Hayden Vows Independence, Honesty as CIA Chief

Hayden Vows Independence, Honesty as CIA Chief

Hayden Vows Independence, Honesty as CIA Chief

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Senate confirmation hearings for Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to be the director of the CIA began Thursday with sharp criticism of Hayden's oversight of past surveillance programs. Hayden says he intends to tell the senators what they need to know, not what they want to hear. Madeleine Brand talks to Larry Abramson about Hayden's testimony and the Senate response.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

In Washington the Senate Intelligence Committee is questioning Gen. Michael Hayden. He's President Bush's nominee to run the CIA. Hayden was head of the National Security Agency until last year. He oversaw the NSA's controversial domestic surveillance program. In opening remarks Committee Chair Pat Roberts defended that program.

Senator PAT ROBERTS (Republican, Kansas, U.S. Senate Committee Chair): I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties but you have no civil liberties if you are dead.

BRAND: Joining us now is NPR's Larry Abramson; he's been covering the hearings. And Larry, have we learned anything new about General Hayden and this program?

LARRY ABRAMSON reporting:

Well we've learned a lot more about General Hayden. I don't think we've learned very much more about how the program worked. There's been sort of a dance going on because members of the committee were only fully briefed on this program only yesterday so many of them actually know more now in their own minds than they can say publicly.

And I think they've sort of been tempting General Hayden, trying to get him to confirm recent reports about the size of the program but he hasn't bit as it were. He's been very cautious about what he says, he's really only confirming what the President has already confirmed, which is that it's limited to al Qaeda members and international phone calls but he hasn't really commented on recent allegations in USA Today that the agency is collecting millions of phone records from average Americans.

But we have learned that General Hayden really was the architect of this program. He was asked what else can you do, and he came up with this idea and it was, it was reinforced today how much he was deeply involved both in the program and with what he says were the civil liberties check lists that he came up with that is supposed to have insured and still is supposed to insure that average Americans, that innocent people, aren't surveilled that just al Qaeda.

BRAND: And he, and he defended the program's legality I understand?

ABRAMSON: Yes he did. And, you know, he said that he was reassured by the General Counsel and the NSA he really had no doubts about that that they were all persuaded by the same argument to the Department of Justice as used which is that the President has under Article II of the Constitution the authority to do this kind of eavesdropping in order to protect national security.

BRAND: Well what else are senators asking him?

ABRAMSON: Well as, you know, there's a lot of tension in the intelligence community between the defense aspects of intelligence and between the civilian aspects. General Hayden has played down that tension. He said, you know, we can sort of work this out. He's played down tensions that he has reportedly had with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and he's basically said that we are going to work out all these things. That he wants to reinforce the CIA's role as the center of human intelligence throughout the intelligence community. He also talked a little bit about the mistakes made in the intelligence community regarding the War in Iraq said we did take too much for granted regarding weapons of mass destruction there and basically we can't do that again.

BRAND: And what kind of impression do you think he's making on the senators?

ABRAMSON: Well the impression he makes on me is that he's kind of a technocrat which is, you know, good in a lot of ways because he's-that's the role that he's going to play. He also comes across as a very eager job applicant. He really clearly wants this job; he's saying the kinds of things that I would say if I was applying for a job that I really wanted. He's not combative, he's assuring him, he's assuring the senators that he can work out the problems in this agency, which we have to remember the CIA has faced a huge amount of criticism in recent years, but he's eager to dive into an agency which has had trouble, which has been sort of demoted in its priorities and says, you know, I, I can do it.

BRAND: NPR's Larry Abramson covering the Hayden hearings. Thank you very much.

ABRAMSON: You're welcome.

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