By Thomas E. Ricks and Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 7, 2006
When Gen. Michael V. Hayden took over as director of the National Security Agency in 1999, he faced a huge organization that was overwhelmingly staffed by aging white men who had spent their careers specializing in the intricacies of the Soviet Union and other aspects of the Cold War. He set out to overhaul the communications interception service and move it into the 21st century.
He came out of that anti-Soviet mold: While attached to the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria in the mid-1980s, he would dress in workingman's clothes, ride trains and, with his cap pulled over his eyes, pretend to doze while eavesdropping on Bulgarian soldiers heading home on leave. Yet, Hayden managed to reinvent himself, and has gone on to thrive in the post-Sept. 11 world, even though he hardly would be considered an expert in terrorism or the Middle East, the two major problems on which today's Central Intelligence Agency is focused.
Despite his military background, Hayden, 61, is something of a nonconformist. There is a pattern in his career of independent thinking, probably one reason he was able to thrive in the current security environment.
During the mid-1990s, when he was an Air Force colonel overseeing intelligence at the U.S. European Command, Hayden was outspoken in arguing that U.S. policy in the Balkans was too pro-Bosnian and insufficiently understanding of the Serbs' plight. He also enjoyed talking to journalists, and when he took over the NSA, he would invite groups of them to dinner at his Fort Meade house, a marked departure for a secretive institution where people joked that its name stood for "No Such Agency" or "Never Say Anything."
If Hayden is nominated and confirmed as director of the CIA, succeeding Porter J. Goss, whose resignation President Bush accepted Friday, he will take over an institution that has been battered in recent years and even treated as an adversary at times by the Bush administration.
Agency insiders probably will be suspicious of Hayden, a career military man. They also will be skeptical that the mild-mannered Hayden can protect them from the bureaucratic maneuverings of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who in recent years has built up military intelligence and made it more independent of CIA oversight.
"Mike Hayden will have his work cut out for him," said Michael Vickers, a former CIA officer who consults with the Pentagon. "If nominated and confirmed, he will assume the most important job in the U.S. government when it comes to fighting the global war on terrorism." That will be especially difficult for someone such as Hayden, who comes out of the technical side of intelligence, not the more hands-on area of clandestine operations. Nor have military officers had much success leading the CIA in recent decades.
Even securing Senate confirmation could be tough, especially during a midterm election year in which Democrats will be seeking to regain control of Congress. Hayden has long worked at developing good relationships with members of Congress, but those ties have frayed lately, mainly because of the NSA's domestic surveillance program.
On Dec. 17, 2005, when the existence of that program was revealed in the New York Times, Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence panel, called Hayden on her cellphone.
The general was on a family outing in Annapolis, but told Harman he would drive back to Washington to brief her and any intelligence panel colleagues on the program. He promised to be there in two hours. Harman began organizing for a briefing, but within the hour Hayden called and canceled. "The White House yanked his permission to do so," Harman said in an interview.
For lawmakers accustomed to his availability, candor and nonpartisan approach, the turnaround came as a shock. "It certainly made some of us wonder whether he's the independent person we thought he was," another member of Congress said.
If confirmed, Hayden's next hurdle would be running and re-energizing the CIA. A senior intelligence official who was willing to discuss Hayden on the condition of anonymity said his qualifications for CIA director are numerous. "He is affable, he is nice and he is probably the senior most qualified intelligence officer in the United States," the official said.
But, said this and several other officials, it would be a mistake to put someone in uniform in charge of a civilian agency. Officials close to Hayden suggested that the four-star general might retire from the military to alleviate those concerns. "It would be a symbolic gesture that would go a long way in painting him as a civilian, rather than another Pentagon man, taking over," one official said.
Should Hayden be nominated, Vice Adm. Albert M. Calland III, the CIA's deputy director, is expected to be replaced by a former senior CIA officer from the clandestine service who is now in government outside the agency, according to former senior intelligence officials who have been contacted about the appointment but were sworn to secrecy. "The agency and particularly the DO [Directorate of Operations, the clandestine service] will be happy with this choice," one former senior official said yesterday.
A major test for Hayden would be how he handles Rumsfeld. In their views of the nature of contemporary war, the two men are aligned. "High-quality intelligence is the American 21st-century version of mass," Hayden said in 2003. "With it, we have replaced mass on the battlefield with knowledge and precision."
But in recent years, Hayden has clashed with the defense secretary over organizational and bureaucratic issues.
When intelligence restructuring legislation was before Congress in 2004, Hayden and James R. Clapper Jr., then head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, told Congress that their organizations, which collect electronic intelligence and analyze imagery, should be under the proposed Director of National Intelligence for budgets and direction, and not under the defense secretary, as they were.
Rumsfeld was unhappy with their views and let them know it. Soon after, Clapper left, and Hayden became deputy director of national intelligence, under John D. Negroponte.
"How will Hayden deal with the land-grabbing from the Pentagon?" asked a former CIA station chief. "That's going to be the real fight."
Hayden probably would be aided by his relationship with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, with whom he worked on the staff of the National Security Council in the George H.W. Bush administration, from 1989 to 1991. Hayden also would benefit from his rapport with Negroponte.
Staff writer Walter Pincus and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.