Can Hayden clear Senate?
CIA nominee's career in the military and at NSA may be sticking points.
WASHINGTON — By the time President Bush nominated Gen. Michael Hayden Monday morning to be the next CIA director, the firestorm over the anticipated selection was already well under way.
Sunday talk shows and Monday headlines were dominated by the vocal concerns of a few congressional Republicans questioning the appropriateness, at this time in history, of putting a military man at the top of the nation's premier civilian intelligence agency. . Also at issue, particularly among Democrats, is General Hayden's role in running the president's controversial warrantless surveillance program when he headed the National Security Agency.
But the early sense of political analysts is that Hayden is likely to be confirmed by the Senate, barring any unforeseen revelations before or during hearings. With the president's job approval ratings now in the low to mid-30s, he can ill afford a major uprising within his own party. Some GOP congressional grumbling is a show of independence from an unpopular president in advance of the midterm elections, but when push comes to shove, most Republicans will fall in line, analysts say.
Clearly, Mr. Bush will have to use some of the "trace elements of political capital" to get the nomination through, says Norman Ornstein, a Congress-watcher at the American Enterprise Institute. But "he's likely to succeed, in part because a lot of these Republicans are going to realize in the end that if this nomination goes down, it's just going to add to the sense of disarray that will reflect on them in November."
The negative voice that received the most early attention belonged to Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R) of Michigan, who as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is seen as credible on intelligence matters - but has no vote in the Senate. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Representative Hoekstra referred to "a tremendous amount of tension" between the CIA, Department of Defense, and the intelligence community over the last 18 months.
"Regardless of how good Mike is, putting a general in charge is going to send the wrong signal through the agency here in Washington, but also to our agents in the field around the world," Hoekstra said, adding that even if Hayden were to retire from the military before taking over at the CIA, there might still be a perception that he is under the sway of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
On Monday, Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, defended the Hayden selection on several morning news shows. "The question is not military versus civilian," said Mr. Hadley on ABC's "Good Morning America," noting that several past CIA chiefs have been military men. "The question is the best man for that job.... He's committed to the agenda of intelligence reform. And he's not just a military officer. He's had broad experience in the intelligence business."
One such military man who was director of central intelligence - Admiral Stansfield Turner, who served under President Carter, a Democrat - agrees that by law, the president is within his rights to name a military officer to that position. Still, he adds, "I don't happen to think this is the best time to have a military person, because the threat to the country is not a military one today so much as terrorism."
Admiral Turner, who retired from the military two years into his CIA tenure, says he is not concerned that a man like Hayden, with his background and experience, is going to get pushed around by Secretary Rumsfeld. The problem, Turner says, is Hayden's central role in the president's warrantless surveillance program, aimed at preventing another 9/11. The White House calls it the "terrorist surveillance program."
Most Democrats - and a few Republicans, including Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania - oppose the program, calling it an unconstitutional overreach of executive branch power. Hayden's confirmation hearings will provide a platform for renewed discussion of the surveillance program, a battle the White House would welcome, since battling terrorism is one of the president's strongest areas in a landscape of issues that largely works against him. Most Democrats understand this, and will lie low, at least for now, analysts say.
"The White House would love the Democrats to take the bait on wiretaps; that would make their day," says Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council. "I think the Democrats are conscious of this, and a few will make the argument, but it's not going to be overwhelming."
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, one of the top Senate Democrats, issued a statement expressing concern about the Hayden nomination - but did not mention warrantless wiretapping. Instead, he echoed the concerns over Hayden's military background.
"I am concerned that General Hayden may not be able to provide the President with the independent voice he needs at the CIA," he said.
In a White House briefing after Hayden's nomination was announced, John Negroponte, director of national intelligence - a job created after 9/11 that puts him over the CIA - sought to allay concerns about Hayden, including the fact that his focus in the past has not been on developing the nation's human intelligence assets, an area of great need.
"Mike will help grow the CIA's human-intelligence capabilities, ensure that those capabilities are well-integrated with other intelligence operations, [and] provide crucial leadership for all of the intelligence community's human operations," Mr. Negroponte said of his current deputy.