Hayden Urges CIA Critics to Refrain

By Dafna Linzer and Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 19, 2006

Gen. Michael V. Hayden, President Bush's choice to lead the CIA, strongly defended the administration's policies on domestic surveillance and the treatment of detainees during his confirmation hearing yesterday, and urged senators to suspend debate about CIA failures and give the agency a chance to rebound.

"It's time to move past what seems to me to be an endless picking apart of the archaeology of every past intelligence success or failure," Hayden said. "CIA officers . . . deserve recognition of their efforts, and they also deserve not to have every action analyzed, second-guessed and criticized on the front pages of the morning paper."

Although accountability is important, he said the "CIA needs to get out of the news as source or subject and focus on protecting the American people by acquiring secrets and providing high-quality all-source analysis."

Hayden vowed to remake the CIA into the premier intelligence agency, in part by encouraging officers to take risks and to admit uncertainties even when top officials press for definitive findings. He promised to "speak truth to power," and said that he and the intelligence community had learned the lessons of Iraq.

"While the bulk of the agency's work must, in order to be effective, remain secret, fighting this long war on the terrorists who seek to do us harm requires that the American people and you, their elected representatives, know that the CIA is protecting them effectively and in a way consistent with the core values of our nation," Hayden said.

In more than six hours of testimony before the Senate intelligence committee, Hayden, a four-star Air Force general, offered assurances in some areas, saying he is committed to safeguarding privacy, to working effectively with other intelligence agencies and to improving the CIA's record of accomplishment. He also acknowledged serious disagreements with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Douglas J. Feith, the former No. 3 official in the Pentagon who is considered an architect of the Iraq invasion.

But Hayden deflected specific questions on sensitive subjects, including interrogation methods involving terrorism detainees and the scope of the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping operation, telling senators he would respond only during the closed-door portion of the hearing.

Hayden, 61, designed the administration's eavesdropping program in the immediate days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when he ran the National Security Agency. He defended the effort as helpful in the hunt for al-Qaeda though he provided no specific example of the program's success. Under the program, revealed in December, the NSA eavesdropped, without obtaining warrants, on overseas telephone calls by Americans that involved people the government considered terrorism suspects. Earlier this month, USA Today reported that the NSA had obtained phone records of millions of U.S. residents and businesses.

Hayden shed some new light on the program's inception, noting that he was asked by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet to provide a list of NSA's capabilities after the al-Qaeda attacks, even those that Hayden believed would not be permissible under the law. Hayden suggested the scope of the program may go beyond what is publicly known, but he said there was no White House push for eavesdropping on calls in which both parties were in the United States, and that every measure was taken to protect the privacy of Americans whose overseas calls were monitored.

"I understand there are privacy concerns involved in all of this. There's privacy concerns involved in the routine activities of NSA," he said. He said the warrantless eavesdropping was carefully targeted against al-Qaeda suspects.

"No one has said that there has been a targeting decision made that wasn't well-founded in a probable-cause standard," Hayden said.

Some Democrats questioned the claim, noting that thousands of Americans' calls have reportedly been intercepted.

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