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Senate Panel Backs Hayden CIA Confirmation

By KATHERINE SHRADER
The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 23, 2006; 11:07 PM

WASHINGTON -- Gen. Michael Hayden moved a step closer Tuesday to becoming the nation's 20th CIA chief, where he will take over a spy agency looking for a leader to steer it through troubles ranging from al-Qaida to Washington politics.

The Senate Intelligence Committee recommended confirmation, 12-3, with three of the panel's seven Democrats voting against him. If the Senate approves him before Memorial Day, as expected, Hayden could be sworn in by the end of the week.

"We think he is an outstanding choice to head the CIA," committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said after the vote. "He is a proven leader and a supremely qualified intelligence professional."

Hayden, the former National Security Agency chief who became the nation's No. 2 intelligence official last year, has emerged as a leading advocate of the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program.

That defense has raised his profile as the Senate has considered his nomination as CIA chief. It has not seemed to harm his prospects, though Democrats say the program is on shaky legal footing.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., joined Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Evan Bayh of Indiana to vote against Hayden. "General Hayden directed an illegal program that put Americans on American soil under surveillance without the legally required approval of a judge," Feingold said in a statement.

At or near the top of the U.S. spy apparatus for nearly a decade, Hayden is no stranger to controversies. The CIA has a knack for attracting them.

A career Air Force officer, Hayden climbed the ladder to four-star general from the Reserved Officer Training Corps at Duquesne University. He was stationed in Guam as a junior intelligence officer at the end of the Vietnam War.

In 1999, Hayden took over the world's largest spy agency, the NSA, as it struggled to keep up with communications technology from wireless phones to instant messenger programs.

Hayden brought in a new deputy _ William Black _ who had retired from the NSA two years earlier. As he prepares to take over the CIA, Hayden earned respect from many CIA veterans when he indicated he hopes to hire the former deputy director of the CIA's clandestine service, Stephen Kappes, who retired after an unusually public dispute with aides to outgoing Director Porter Goss.

Hayden and Kappes will have to get the CIA's work force back on track. Agency veterans have grumbled that they have wrongly shouldered the blame for mistakes in the run-up to Sept. 11, 2001, even though they say the agency was one of few aggressively going after al-Qaida.

The CIA also faces more adjustments than any other spy agency to a new mission following Congress' December 2004 intelligence reform law. And dozens of intelligence professionals have departed, often over frustrations with Goss' leadership.

When Hayden arrived at the NSA in 1999, a number of people left in what has been described as a purge. It's an open question whether the CIA can afford more departures.

John Brennan, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, acknowledges Hayden "broke some china" at the tradition-bound NSA. But Brennan sees that as a sign of an innovator. At the CIA, Brennan said, "there is still some clearing out that needs to be done."

Few overlook the mistakes Hayden made on major government purchases while he ran the NSA, including the Trailblazer program, which was intended to modernize the NSA's information technology systems. All told, two knowledgeable government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, say the programs cost roughly a couple billion dollars, but never quite worked. Exact dollar figures and details on the programs are classified.

If there is a silver lining for taxpayers, the officials note that the CIA does not spend big on costly technology, since spies are cheaper than satellites and computer servers.

"We were throwing deep, and we should have been throwing short passes," Hayden said of the Trailblazer program last week. "We were trying to do too much all at once."

It's an open question whether Hayden will remain one of the most visible intelligence officials in government once he moves into the seventh-floor executive suite at CIA.

Hardly afraid of a camera, Hayden opened up the super-secret NSA in limited ways by letting reporters come to NSA family day and inviting reporters to other types of sessions to explain _ in the broadest of terms _ how the agency works.

Hayden told the Senate he wants the CIA out of the news _ "as source or subject." Yet he said he wants to win back public confidence in America's best-known spy agency. Hayden didn't explain how he will square the contradicting notions.

Hayden himself has become a source of controversy over the warrantless surveillance program. But, to date, no full-blown investigations have been launched into the program.

On Monday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin wrote a senior Democratic congressman to say his office could not investigate the NSA's alleged collection of phone records on millions of Americans because of legal protections for the NSA's classified operations.

___

Associated Press writer Elizabeth White contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press