GOP Duo Back Hayden for CIA

By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 13, 2006

Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden won praise from two moderate Republican senators yesterday, a sign of strength for his bid to become CIA director despite a furor over the government's reported massive collection of telephone records.

A Washington Post-ABC News overnight poll, meanwhile, indicates that most Americans support such government operations in the name of hunting potential terrorists. Nonetheless, several Democratic lawmakers called for investigations into the data gathering, and one said Hayden's credibility is in question.

Hayden, who met individually with five senators yesterday, will be closely questioned about the legality of surveillance operations in open and closed confirmation hearings by the Senate intelligence committee next week, several lawmakers said. But two Republicans who have opposed the Bush administration on some issues strongly hinted they will vote to confirm him.

"I support him," Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), an intelligence committee member, said after meeting with the nominee. In a later interview Hagel added, "There's no question that General Hayden is going to have to fully and clearly explain these programs and precisely his role" in them.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who also met with Hayden, called him "highly qualified" to head the CIA.

Hayden directed the National Security Agency when it began warrantless eavesdropping of an undisclosed number of Americans' phone calls and e-mails, and when the agency reportedly began collecting the telephone calling records of millions of U.S. households and businesses. President Bush apparently approved both efforts after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But they became known publicly only years later through newspaper reports, including USA Today's article Thursday on the phone records.

Some Senate intelligence committee members have warned Hayden to expect a thorough grilling. A Republican member, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, yesterday sent a letter to John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, asking for information on the phone records operation by Wednesday. "Do you believe that this operation is legal, and if so, on what legal and constitutional authority?" Snowe asked. Other questions included, "What does the NSA intend to do with the information collected via this program?"

A Democratic committee member, Ron Wyden of Oregon, met with Hayden for nearly an hour and later told reporters he had concerns about the nominee's and the administration's credibility. At a December hearing, Wyden said, Hayden repeatedly assured senators that the NSA's warrantless surveillance program dealt only with communications in which one party was outside the United States and at least one person was suspected of possible terrorist ties.

Wyden called the massive gathering of Americans' phone records "another very significant aspect to the program." Even though it reportedly does not involve authorities listening to conversations, Wyden said, Hayden appears to have misled senators into thinking that NSA's overall monitoring of ordinary U.S. citizens is far more limited than it is. "I find it a bit of a challenge to reconcile those two reports," Wyden said.

The Post's poll found that 63 percent of Americans said they considered the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism; 35 percent said the program was unacceptable. A slightly larger majority -- 66 percent -- said they would not be bothered if the NSA collected records of personal calls they had made, the poll found.

According to the poll, 65 percent of those interviewed said it was more important to investigate potential terrorist threats "even if it intrudes on privacy." Three in 10, or 31 percent, said it was more important for the federal government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.

USA Today reported that AT&T Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. have given the government the records of tens of millions of their customers' phone calls since late 2001. Yesterday, a lawyer for Joseph Nacchio, former chief executive of telecommunications company Qwest, explained why that corporation refused. When Nacchio determined that the government's request was not supported by warrants "or other legal process," the lawyer's statement said, he "concluded that these requests violated the privacy requirements of the Telecommunications Act."

Polling director Richard Morin contributed to this report.

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