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Friday, March 1, 2024

The Hill up in arms over Hayden

The idea of a military man running the Central Intelligence Agency just doesn't sit all that well with lawmakers in Washington. Has Bush screwed up again?

Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, the expected nominee to be the next chief of the CIA, is running into criticism from lawmakers unhappy that a military officer would lead the civilian spy agency.

President Bush was expected to name Hayden to replace outgoing CIA Director Porter Goss as early as Monday, before leaving in the afternoon on a three-day trip to Florida.

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

Hoekstra said having a general in charge of the CIA could create the impression among agents around the world that the agency is under Pentagon control, at a time when the Defense Department and CIA have “ongoing tensions.”

If Hayden were nominated and confirmed, military officers would run all the major spy agencies, from the ultra-secret National Security Agency to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Hoekstra’s 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. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said Hayden could leave agents with the impression that the CIA has been “just gobbled up by the Defense Department.”

Some lawmakers, 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.

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 avoided.

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,” McCain 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.”


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