Hayden Insists NSA Surveillance Is Legal
Friday, May 19, 2006; 2:04 AM
WASHINGTON -- CIA director nominee Michael Hayden acknowledged concerns about civil liberties even as he vigorously defended the Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping program as a legal spy tool needed to ensnare terrorists.
Peppered with tough questions at a daylong confirmation hearing Thursday, the four-star Air Force general portrayed himself as an independent thinker, capable of taking over the CIA as it struggles with issues ranging from nuclear threats to its place among 15 other spy agencies.
Hayden spoke of his own concerns about the no-warrant surveillance program and other eavesdropping operations he oversaw as National Security Agency chief from 1999 until last year.
"Clearly, the privacy of American citizens is a concern _ constantly," he told the Senate Intelligence Committee. "And it's a concern in this program. It's a concern in everything we've done."
Hayden said he decided to go ahead with the terrorist surveillance program in October 2001 after internal discussions about what more the NSA could do to detect potential attacks. He believed the work to be legal and necessary, an assertion Democrats and civil liberties groups have aggressively questioned.
"The math was pretty straightforward," Hayden said. "I could not not do this."
Bush selected Hayden to be the nation's 20th CIA director earlier this month, knowing his choice would inflame the debate about the NSA program to monitor domestic calls and e-mails when one person is overseas and terrorism is suspected. Breaking new ground, the work was done without court approval.
A USA Today report last week about NSA efforts to analyze the call records of millions of Americans added new grist to the discussion and prompted the administration to reverse course after five months and tell the intelligence committees on Wednesday more about the terror-monitoring work.
Hayden declined to openly discuss the reports, saying he would talk only about the part of the program the president had confirmed.
"Is that the whole program?" asked Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
"I'm not at liberty to talk about that in open session," replied Hayden, currently the nation's No. 2 intelligence official. A closed-door session was held in the evening.
Even as Republicans praised Hayden, senators of both parties said they should have been briefed on the work five years ago. More than one Democrat said he felt deceived.