Nominee Has Ability To Bear Bad News
Friday, May 19, 2006
Of all the unpleasant tasks Gen. Michael V. Hayden will face if confirmed as CIA director, perhaps the most important will be bringing the president bad news.
Or as Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) put it yesterday during his confirmation hearing: Will Hayden succumb to "the gaga factor" when he stands next to the president? Will he be "a 'Yes, sir,' Mr. Slam-Dunk, rather than speaking truth to power?"
In the midst of three major crises -- the Iraq war, the tensions with Iran and worldwide terrorist attacks -- will Hayden have the fortitude to give Bush straightforward intelligence, even if it contradicts the president's views?
The consensus among officials who have worked with Hayden is that he possesses a well-developed ability and willingness to deliver contrarian views, albeit diplomatically, as he did during yesterday's hearing.
Will Hayden convey the agency's deep concern about Iraq to Bush? "Yes, I think he will," said a senior CIA official who has seen Hayden in high-level meetings. "I think he'll be professional about it, though. He won't jump on the table. But he'll make the point."
In the past year, the CIA station in Baghdad has told headquarters that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating dangerously, according to a senior CIA official familiar with the station's view and with Hayden. The assessment has only gotten worse, the official said.
Although the CIA director no longer briefs the president every day, at least once a week he has the chance to give Bush his views directly on a wide range of subjects. Then-CIA Director George J. Tenet had told the president that the case against Iraq was "a slam-dunk," as Bush recalled in an interview with Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward. Outgoing CIA Director Porter J. Goss was seen by many at the CIA as a partisan chief who was intent on bringing the agency into line with administration priorities.
Throughout yesterday's confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Hayden repeatedly showed his willingness to confront controversy.
He promised to wrest control of the Pentagon's efforts to develop its own intelligence apparatus by using his authority under the new law to manage all human intelligence programs. Hayden, who loves sports metaphors, said he welcomes Defense Department personnel as "more players on the team" but added that "they got to know how to play the sport." The Pentagon, he added, would have to conduct its activities "according to standards, standards of tradecraft and standards of law."
On the subject of Iran, Hayden said the agency should assess Iran's weapons capability "in a cultural context," which had been ignored in the ultimately inaccurate analysis of Iraq's weapons program. Such a context, he said, includes "how decisions are made in those countries."
Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) took Hayden back to the prewar intelligence on Iraq, asking whether he agreed with an independent review by former deputy CIA director Richard Kerr, who found that White House "requests for reporting and analysis of Iraq's links to al-Qaeda were steady and heavy leading up to the war, creating significant pressure on the intelligence community to find evidence that supported a connection."
Hayden responded that, at the National Security Agency, he, too, "did have a series of inquiries about this potential connection." He said the agency answered each query by saying "SIGINT [signals intelligence intercepts] neither confirms or denies" that link.
Hayden said he "wasn't comfortable" with the findings of then-Defense Undersecretary Douglas J. Feith, whose office produced an unofficial prewar intelligence analysis that concluded that there was a "strong connection" between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
Hayden said he believes that intelligence analysis should be done by "induction," under which "all the data" are gathered and general conclusions determined, rather than by "deduction," under which you have a conclusion and seek out the data that support it.
Hayden also politely rebuffed senators who questioned the wisdom of nominating as his deputy a former CIA official who had resigned in protest under Goss. He said Stephen R. Kappes, the former CIA head of operations, is widely respected within the agency.
"You get a lot more authority when the workforce doesn't think it's amateur hour on the top floor," Hayden said, without having to note that Goss had been considered an amateur when he arrived at CIA headquarters.
"My sense is," Hayden added, "with someone like Steve at my side, the ability to make hard turns is increased, not decreased."