An Intelligent CIA Pick

Gen. Michael Hayden and John Negroponte testifying before Congress in February.
Gen. Michael Hayden and John Negroponte testifying before Congress in February. (By Manuel Balce Ceneta -- Associated Press)
By Robert M. Gates
Thursday, May 18, 2006

As the last career intelligence officer to serve as director of central intelligence, I believe Gen. Mike Hayden should be confirmed as director of the CIA.

Hayden is an intelligence professional and widely regarded as one of the very best. While he has spent his career as an Air Force officer, he has done so in intelligence assignments. As a professional, he understands that the best intelligence does not come from technical collection alone but from the blending of technical, human and other kinds of information. His leadership at the National Security Agency obviously gives him great insight into technical collection, but he knows full well that many intelligence successes over time have resulted from combined technical-human intelligence operations. Further, his nearly 13 months as deputy director of national intelligence has given him valuable insight into human intelligence collection and operations, as well as the needs of nonmilitary users of intelligence -- above all the president.

I do not share the concern about a military officer serving from time to time as director of the CIA. One of the lessons from the Persian Gulf War was that CIA support for military operations needed significant improvement. As director of central intelligence, I worked with Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to appoint a senior military officer as the third-ranking officer in the CIA's clandestine service, and my successors appointed military officers to even more-senior positions. Several members of the military served well as deputy directors of central intelligence.

In a world where the principal threats are terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, close cooperation between the military and the CIA in both clandestine operations and intelligence collection is essential. An arrangement in which Hayden would serve as director of the CIA and his deputy would be a career CIA officer strikes me as promising.

Questions have been raised as to whether such a leadership team could bring about necessary reforms at the CIA, both in analysis and collection. First, a number of changes already have been made or are underway. Second, the fresh perspective of someone from outside the agency is bound to be useful, especially if that person is -- like Hayden -- a seasoned professional who understands the CIA's strengths as well as how it needs to change. Hayden is a proven reformer. His changes at the NSA, where the internal culture is as tough to change as that of the CIA, have been widely applauded. He has shown a willingness to bring new thinking to intelligence bureaucracies and to lead career professionals in making those changes.

Would he be sufficiently independent, both with respect to the Defense Department and the director of national intelligence (DNI), John Negroponte? Everyone who knows Mike Hayden knows he is both independent-minded and a man of integrity. In the debate over restructuring the intelligence community, he openly opposed the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, by urging that the NSA and other such agencies report directly to the DNI and not to the secretary of defense -- a stance I thought pretty courageous for a three-star general. I have no doubt that Hayden will be his own man. That said, I would encourage him to retire from active duty should he be confirmed. It would be an important symbolic gesture of his determination to be -- and be seen as -- independent.

More than a few CIA veterans -- including me -- are unhappy about the dominance of the Defense Department in the intelligence arena and the decline in the CIA's central role. I publicly opposed the establishment of the DNI position. But the change has been made, and we who were in the CIA during its halcyon days must adjust to a new world. The agency has a different, though still critically important, role to play in defending America, both through human source collection and civilian analysis.

In the old structure, the relationship between the director of central intelligence and the president's national security adviser was key to the agency's role and effectiveness. Now the key relationship will be between the director of the CIA and the DNI. Antagonism and bureaucratic resistance toward the DNI would further diminish the CIA's place in the national security arena. How better to forge a strong relationship than to place John Negroponte's deputy, Hayden, in the leadership role at the CIA? It also would be a partnership important to reestablishing a strong civilian institutional counterbalance and alternative strategic intelligence perspective to the historically strong Defense Department intelligence arm.

In January 2005 I was asked by the White House to consider becoming the first director of national intelligence. In discussions with then-Chief of Staff Andy Card and national security adviser Steve Hadley, I made clear that if I assumed the position, I wanted Mike Hayden to be my deputy. Then as now I considered him the best intelligence professional in the government. While I ultimately decided not to seek the position, the White House and Negroponte wisely went ahead and appointed Hayden deputy.

The Senate will, appropriately, have many tough questions for Hayden, especially on NSA surveillance programs. I believe that when the dust settles, he will still be the best person to become director of the CIA.

The writer was deputy director of central intelligence under President Ronald Reagan and director of central intelligence under President George H.W. Bush. He is now president of Texas A&M University.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company