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Front-runner to lead CIA draws fire

Even before President Bush has named his choice to take over the CIA, the Air Force general who is the front-runner drew fire Sunday from lawmakers who say a military man should not lead the civilian spy agency.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Even before President Bush has named his choice to take over the CIA, the Air Force general who is the front-runner drew fire Sunday from lawmakers in the president’s own party who say a military man should not lead the civilian spy agency.

The criticism of the expected choice of Gen. Michael Hayden to head the CIA came from some influential Republicans in Congress as well as from Democrats.

“I do believe he’s the wrong person, the wrong place, at the wrong time,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich. “We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time.”

Hoekstra said on “Fox News Sunday” that having a general in charge of the CIA could create the impression among agents around the world that the agency is under Pentagon control. If he were to get the nomination, military officers would run all the major spy agencies, from the ultra-secret National Security Agency to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Hoekstra said “there’s ongoing tensions between this premiere civilian intelligence agency and the Department of Defense as we speak.”

‘Major problem’
The sentiment was echoed by Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who said Hayden’s military background would be a “major problem,” and several Democrats who made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., said Hayden could leave agents with the impression that the CIA has been “just gobbled up by the Defense Department.”

The criticism comes a day before Bush was expected to name Hayden as his choice to lead the CIA. Outgoing director Porter Goss abruptly announced his resignation Friday after less than two years on the job.

Hayden is widely respected in both parties for his long experience with intelligence, and many lawmakers said he could be a good candidate for some other job. Some, like Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, suggested that he might think about resigning his military post if he were going to head the CIA. But Hoekstra and Chambliss were among those who said that wouldn’t solve the problem.

“Just resigning commission and moving on, putting on a striped suit, a pinstriped suit versus an Air Force uniform, I don’t think makes much difference,” Chambliss said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Talk of Hayden’s possible nomination has reignited the debate over the Bush’s administration’s domestic surveillance program, which Hayden used to oversee as the former head of the National Security Agency.

California Rep. Jane Harman, leading Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Hayden “made a big mistake” by defending the legality of the eavesdropping program in December during a speech at the National Press Club. “That program does not comply with law,” she said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he would use a Hayden nomination to raise questions about the legality of the program and did not rule out holding it up until he gets answers. “I’m not going to draw any lines in the sand until I see how the facts evolve,” Specter said on Fox.

White House insiders tried to shrug off suggestions that Hayden’s military experience could become a serious issue. And they said they welcome a fight over the domestic eavesdropping program — an issue that Bush certainly has not shied away from taking on in his effort to take a tough stance against terrorists.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said she is concerned about Hayden’s role in the domestic spying program, but that should not be the issue in Senate confirmation hearings for the CIA. But having a four-star general leading the spy agency should be, she said.

“There have to be more people that can be drawn upon” in the administration, she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “These people are all just this little clique, they play musical chairs, they’re all far too close to the president politically, and I think that the confidence that everyone needs in the CIA would be better instilled if we had someone else.”

Vice President Dick Cheney, in an interview with NBC, would not comment on whether Bush was prepared to nominate Hayden. But he said the new CIA director will have to “make a lot of adjustments” at the agency.

Support from McCain
“We’re faced with trying to find ways to figure out what a small group of terrorists are going to do, they’re difficult to penetrate, difficult to track by national technical means,” Cheney said. “It places a much heavier emphasis on human intelligence than was required, necessarily, before, but it automatically places a burden on whoever’s in that job as director of the CIA.”

Hayden has his defenders on Capitol Hill. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he hopes he could be confirmed.

“In all due respect to my colleagues — and I obviously respect their views — General Hayden is really more of an intelligence person than he is an Air Force officer,” he said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “I think that we should also remember that there had been other former military people who have been directors of the CIA.”

And Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, who will oversee confirmation hearings for the post, acknowledged on CNN that there is some real concern about somebody from the military heading up the CIA. But he said that can be easily resolved by Hayden resigning his post and bringing in deputies with a strong civilian background.