WASHINGTON — President Bush’s nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden as CIA chief ignited a confirmation fight Monday over the intelligence veteran’s ties to a controversial eavesdropping program and his ability to be independent from the military establishment.
With Hayden at his side, Bush urged senators to promptly approve the former National Security Agency head, who one year ago was confirmed unanimously to be the nation’s first deputy director of national intelligence.
“Mike Hayden is supremely qualified for this position,” Bush said in the Oval Office. “He knows the intelligence community from the ground up.”
CIA Director Porter Goss announced his resignation last week after tussling with Hayden and his boss, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, about the agency’s autonomy and direction.
Even before Hayden’s nomination became official, Republican as well as Democratic lawmakers had begun questioning whether he was the right choice to head the spy agency.
Hayden is credited with designing the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program. Disclosure of the program late last year sparked an intense civil-liberties debate over whether the president can order the monitoring of international calls and e-mails in the U.S. without court warrants.
California Rep. Jane Harman, the House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, joined colleagues in saying Hayden had become part of the “White House spin machine” though intelligence professionals typically eschew partisan politics.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has said that he would use a Hayden nomination to raise questions about the legality of the eavesdropping program, and he has not ruled out holding up the nomination in the meantime.
It will fall to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to keep order on the panel as it considers Hayden’s confirmation. But even Roberts has acknowledged there is concern about someone from the military heading the CIA. Several Republicans, including House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., have called Hayden’s military background troublesome in this case.
Sources told NBC’s David Gregory that Hayden may retire from the military to assuage concerns.
Hayden, 61, would be the seventh military officer to head the CIA since 1946. But his nomination comes at a time when lawmakers are particularly concerned about the influence of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
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With Hayden’s installation, active duty or retired military officers would run all the major spy agencies as well as the intelligence hub, the National Counterterrorism Center.
Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who is chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Hayden has been candid even when his judgments differed from Rumsfeld. Still, she called on Hayden to consider retiring from the Air Force after more than 35 years “to send a signal of independence from the Pentagon.”
Seeking to ease concerns about military leadership at the CIA, Negroponte said a retired veteran of the agency’s clandestine service, Steve Kappes, is a leading contender to replace the CIA’s current deputy director, Vice Adm. Albert Calland III.
To balance the CIA between military and civilian leadership, the White House plans to move Calland aside, administration officials told NBC News. Other personnel changes also are likely, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the changes are not ready to announce.
Kappes left the CIA in 2004, after conflicts with Goss’ top aides, nicknamed “the Gosslings” by detractors.
Many of those top aides were expected to soon leave. The first to go: Executive Director Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, who is retiring, an intelligence official said Monday.
An e-mail announcing the resignation went out to CIA employees Monday, NBC News has learned.
The FBI is investigating whether Foggo’s friend, defense contractor Brent Wilkes, provided prostitutes and hotel suites to a California congressman jailed for taking bribes in exchange for government contracts.
Foggo is also under federal investigation in connection with the award of CIA contracts, according to a federal law enforcement official who spoke only on condition of anonymity because the probe is under way.
Job No. 1: Smoothing ruffled feathers
Hayden’s associates expect him to try to smooth feelings within the troubled CIA, which has experienced an exodus of veterans in the past 18 months and has struggled since it lost its top spot among all other spy agencies with recent intelligence changes.
Video: More change coming for CIA “Skirmishing about turf is always inevitable,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., an intelligence committee member who is undecided on Hayden. “In my mind, there is a question of how you can reconcile what he has said in the past about privacy and the NSA, with what is now on the public record about the program.”
Hayden, a Pittsburgh Steelers football fan known for using sports metaphors, takes pride in his blue-collar roots. He drove a taxi on the side in college at Duquesne University, where he received his commission through the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He became a four-star general last year.
Questions over next move
In 1999, Hayden was sent to supervise eavesdroppers and codebreakers at the NSA. He stayed to become its longest-serving director and worked to keep the agency on pace with technological changes in communications.
Hayden is likely to face questions publicly and privately about what precisely he has in mind for the CIA. Goss and Negroponte disagreed over whether the CIA should share its top analysts and scientists who develop James Bond-like toys with other elements of the spy community, or keep them at the CIA’s Virginia campus.
While complimentary of Goss, Negroponte said believes the Hayden-Kappes team will improve the mood at the agency.
“That’s going to be a boost for the morale out there,” he said, “and I think they’re going to welcome this new leadership.”
No loss in rank or pay if he leaves service
If Hayden were to voluntarily quit the Air Force to head the CIA as a civilian, he would not drop in rank or retirement pay.
He would give up other benefits that accrue to senior generals, however, such as free housing at Bolling Air Force Base along the Potomac River, and other privileges of rank. Leaving the service now also would eliminate the option of him taking another four-star position in the military in the event his CIA stint was short-lived.
Hayden began his Air Force career in 1969 and has been a general officer since Sept. 1, 1993, when he became a one-star. He was given one additional star in 1996 and another in 1999, and he reached his current four-star rank on April 22, 2005.
Basic pay for a four-star general this year is limited by law to $12,666.60 per month, or $151,999.20 a year. A three- or four-star general may, at the discretion of the president and with the consent of the Senate, be retired in the highest rank held while serving on active duty, according to the official Air Force Officer’s Guide.
Hayden would not rise higher on the retirement pay scale by staying in the Air Force longer because retirement pay is capped at 75 percent of basic pay after 30 years of service. He is well beyond the 30-year mark.
The Associated Press and NBC News’ David Gregory and Robert Windrem contributed to this report.