Page 2 of 2   <      

White House Set to Fight for Hayden

President Bush witnessed Gen. Michael V. Hayden's swearing-in as deputy director of national intelligence a year ago.
President Bush witnessed Gen. Michael V. Hayden's swearing-in as deputy director of national intelligence a year ago. (By Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- Associated Press)

Goss was overshadowed soon after arriving at Langley when Congress created Negroponte's office to supervise the intelligence community and the CIA director lost his role as primary briefer to the president. As Negroponte's deputy, Bush aides believe, Hayden will be more comfortable in a subordinate position, and he has developed a good relationship with Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Bush was especially impressed with Hayden's unrelenting public defense of the surveillance program, which began under his direction at the NSA after Sept. 11. Under the program, the NSA monitors telephone calls and e-mail between the United States and overseas when one participant is suspected of links to terrorists. The administration asserted that it did not need court approval because of the president's inherent war powers, but critics on the left and right said the program violated the law.

In speeches, briefings and congressional hearings, Hayden said that the program was necessary for more "agility" in combating an elusive, underground enemy and that obtaining warrants would be impractical, even though the law permits intelligence tapping for 72 hours before getting court approval.

The White House came to see the program as a political boon because polls showed many voters are not concerned about the civil liberties issues and believe it would only target violent extremists. "When you push even the harshest critic, even they say, 'Yeah, we should be listening to al-Qaeda,' " a senior administration official said yesterday. "So from that perspective, that's a winning [issue] and we're on the side of the public."

Critics, though, took issue with Hayden's role. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said he would be "concerned" about a Hayden nomination. "General Hayden directed and subsequently defended the president's illegal wiretapping program," Feingold said in a statement. He added that he expects "any nominee for this position to be committed to the rule of law and respectful of Congress's oversight responsibility."

A senior Senate Democratic leadership aide said Hayden would probably draw "a tough fight" and serious grilling. "It depends on how forthcoming he is answering the questions," the aide said. "Republicans have some concerns as well. There are legitimate questions about how pervasive this program is and whether it's more comprehensive than General Hayden has acknowledged."

Senators would probably also examine what Hayden's appointment would do to the balance of military vs. civilian influence in the intelligence community. Rumsfeld has asserted more control over intelligence operations, much to the resentment of the CIA. "It seems to me the Pentagon grows even stronger now," a former intelligence official said. "Every time there's a change, it moves in that direction."

But Hayden is far from close to Rumsfeld. When Congress was working on legislation to restructure intelligence agencies in 2004, Hayden testified that the NSA should be under the new director of national intelligence rather than the defense secretary. Rumsfeld was unhappy and let him know it.

Still, some critics said the Goss resignation pointed to broader problems with the restructured intelligence apparatus. "This kind of chaos in U.S. intelligence over the past two years is utterly irresponsible," said Robert L. Hutchings, who was chairman of the National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005. "A 'reform' that was supposed to improve coordination and coherence among our intelligence agencies has had the opposite effect."

Staff writers Walter Pincus and Michael A. Fletcher contributed to this report.


<       2

© 2006 The Washington Post Company