Commanding the CIA

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

PRESIDENT BUSH'S nomination of Gen. Michael V. Hayden as CIA director represents, above all, an attempt to push forward badly needed reforms of the intelligence community -- changes not made by the agency's outgoing chief, Porter J. Goss. For that reason, among others, Gen. Hayden's nomination deserves a careful and fair review by Congress. While he is a four-star Air Force general, he is also one of the most experienced and well-regarded managers in the intelligence community, credited with reorienting the mammoth National Security Agency after the end of the Cold War.

As deputy to the new director of national intelligence (DNI), John D. Negroponte, during the past year, Gen. Hayden has played a key role in the effort -- flagging so far -- to bring the nation's 16 intelligence agencies under central control and coordination. We questioned the wisdom of that reorganization when it was rushed through Congress before the 2004 election; our doubts have grown as Mr. Negroponte has amassed a staff of some 1,500 yet produced few concrete results. But the attempt to improve intelligence collection and analysis has no chance of succeeding if Mr. Negroponte is not able to reshape the missions of the CIA or work closely with its director. Gen. Hayden's appointment should make that more possible.

Congressional defenders of the CIA have questioned whether it is proper for the agency to be headed by an active-duty senior military officer. This is a red herring. Not only has Gen. Hayden spent most of his career in intelligence work, but he has also strongly supported Mr. Negroponte's attempt to exercise authority over the NSA and other Pentagon intelligence agencies, over the stiff resistance of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. There are legitimate reasons for concern about the Pentagon's aggressive expansion of its intelligence operations, but Gen. Hayden's appointment will mean increased clout for the DNI, not the DOD. Mr. Negroponte's announcement yesterday that Gen. Hayden's CIA deputy would probably be Stephen R. Kappes, the highly regarded former deputy director of operations who was senselessly driven out by Mr. Goss, should reassure the agency's professional staff.

This is not to say that Gen. Hayden should not be aggressively questioned in his hearings. As architect and defender of the NSA's domestic surveillance program, Gen. Hayden should be pressed to more fully inform senators -- if necessary in executive session -- about the details of the operation. He should be asked about plans to reform the CIA's secret foreign prisons, where terrorism suspects are held without legal due process or independent monitoring, and which are politically and practically untenable in a war that may continue for decades. As Mr. Negroponte's ally, Gen. Hayden owes Congress a thorough explanation of how the DNI and CIA will work together in the future and why that will produce better intelligence about key targets such as al-Qaeda and Iran. It is those results -- not partisan point-scoring -- that should be the focus of both Congress and the Bush administration.

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