By Walter Pincus and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The nation's top two intelligence officers expect to be replaced by President-elect Barack Obama early in his administration, according to senior intelligence officials.
A number of influential congressional Democrats oppose keeping Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael V. Hayden in their posts because both have publicly supported controversial Bush administration policies on interrogation and telephone surveillance. One Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee said there is a "consensus" view on the matter.
Other Democrats and many intelligence experts, however, give high marks to the current cadre of intelligence leaders, crediting them with restoring stability and professionalism to a community rocked by multiple scandals in recent years. A government official who has closely followed the evolution in the intelligence leadership in recent years argued that it is important to keep at least a few "seasoned" professionals in place during wartime.
Obama transition officials, who have steadfastly declined to discuss the personnel selection process, said yesterday that no decisions have been made regarding intelligence appointments. McConnell and Hayden, both career intelligence professionals, interpret the Obama team not reaching out to them as a sign that they will not be kept on, intelligence officials said.
Both wish to remain on the job, officials say, though neither has said so publicly, and both think that their early departures could be seen as politicizing their offices and setting a precedent for automatic turnover when the White House changes hands. President Bush's decision to retain George J. Tenet, a Clinton appointee, as CIA director was seen inside the agency as a stabilizing move, after the CIA went through five directors in the 10 years following the Iran-contra affair.
The intelligence director and the CIA head are both open-ended appointments. One intelligence official said that McConnell thinks his post should be treated like that of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the president's top military adviser, who serves a fixed two-year term, often extended to an additional two years. A number of chairmen -- such as Gen. Colin L. Powell and Gen. Hugh Shelton -- have spanned the administrations of different political parties.
McConnell, a retired Navy admiral, took over as national intelligence director in February 2007, the second person to hold the office created as part of the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act. Senior intelligence sources said he thinks that the national security apparatus is vulnerable during the first year of an administration as new top intelligence and Pentagon officials await a sometimes-lengthy confirmation process. Last week, McConnell traveled to Chicago to give Obama his first intelligence briefing as president-elect.
Hayden, a retired Air Force general who became CIA head in May 2006, has not been asked to stay, but "has a high regard for the people there, and cares deeply about the mission," an intelligence official said. Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing political and intelligence sensitivities.
Like McConnell, Hayden thinks Obama is "going to have his hands full dealing with what has become a full-blown economic crisis, so he may want to keep some steady, experienced hands at the helm in the national security arena, at least for a while," a Bush administration official said.
John Brennan, head of the Obama intelligence transition team, is one of several names that have surfaced, including Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), as possible replacements for McConnell or Hayden. Brennan, a former top CIA official who helped establish the National Counterterrorism Center as part of the 2004 reforms, left the agency in 2005 to become chief executive of the Analysis Corp., a Virginia consulting firm with intelligence contracts. He advised the Obama campaign on national security.
Brennan's transition deputy, Jami A. Miscik, was CIA deputy director for intelligence before leaving for Lehman Brothers. Brennan and Miscik rose in the CIA ranks under Tenet and left when he was replaced by former congressman Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), Hayden's predecessor. Brennan and Miscik were first identified as intelligence transition team leaders by the Wall Street Journal.
Obama voted against Hayden's nomination in the Senate but said that he did so to send a message. "I am voting against Mr. Hayden in the hope that he will be more humble before the great weight of responsibility that he has not only to protect our lives but to protect our democracy," the senator said.
Intelligence operations and budgets increased under the Bush administration. But the intelligence agencies were the subject of much criticism over their failure to anticipate the 2001 al-Qaeda attacks and their erroneous assessments of weapons of mass destruction, which the administration used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Those concerns led to the 2004 intelligence reforms, which removed the CIA director as head of the 16 U.S. intelligence organizations and established the umbrella Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Hayden and McConnell were not directly tainted by the controversies over Iraq and the CIA's use of harsh interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, against terrorism suspects. Both, however, publicly defended the use of "extraordinary" interrogation measures that critics labeled torture.
Hayden, a former head of the National Security Agency, was in charge of the nation's electronic eavesdropping when the White House ordered warrantless surveillance of some U.S.-based communications. McConnell angered some congressional Democrats during a bruising fight over legislation to expand U.S. wiretapping authority.
Much of the pressure for replacing the two men comes from liberal Democrats who argue that a clean break is needed to restore faith in the U.S. intelligence community. Defenders argue that McConnell and Hayden should not be held responsible for policy decisions made by the Bush administration, and that scrutiny seen as politically motivated undermines intelligence morale.
In a Nov. 5 note to the CIA staff, Hayden advised ignoring speculation about personnel changes, saying that "those privileged to lead this organization understand that they serve at the pleasure of the president."
Staff writer Joby Warrick contributed to this report.