WASHINGTON – President Bush’s apparent choice to run the CIA ran into surprising opposition Sunday as congressional leaders expressed concern about his military background, with one top Republican describing him as “the wrong person, (in) the wrong place, at the wrong time.”
The White House is believed to be poised to announce as early as today the nomination of Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden to be CIA director. Hayden would succeed Porter J. Goss, who resigned under pressure Friday.
It was unclear how Sunday’s burst of concern might affect the timing or substance of that announcement, or whether it reflected concerns that had been previously aired behind closed doors.
Several influential members of Congress, including Republicans on the House and Senate intelligence committees, said they were concerned about a high-ranking military officer running the CIA while the agency is engaged in a rancorous turf war with its intelligence counterparts at the Pentagon.
Hayden, currently the top deputy to national intelligence director John D. Negroponte, would not be the first career military officer to head the CIA; the most recent was Adm. Stansfield Turner, named to the post by President Carter.
But critics contend that naming the general to head the CIA would be a further demoralizing blow for the agency, which has been trying to recover from intelligence failures related to the Sept. 11 attacks and the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
“Putting a general in charge is going to send the wrong signal through the agency here in Washington, but also to our agents in the field around the world,” Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Mike Hayden. … He’s got a distinguished career,” Hoekstra said. “Bottom line, I do believe he’s the wrong person, (in) the wrong place, at the wrong time. We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time.”
The Pentagon has sought to aggressively expand its intelligence capabilities and operations under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, both in the United States and abroad, and it already controls about 80 percent of the estimated $40 billion annual intelligence budget.
The CIA has resisted Rumsfeld’s efforts, arguing that the military is not as interested in the sort of long-term intelligence gathering used in policymaking that has historically driven the intelligence agency.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told “Fox News Sunday” the CIA should be concerned that it was “about to be, quite frankly, just gobbled up by the Defense Department.” Hayden’s confirmation as CIA director would put a military officer in charge at every major U.S. spy agency.
Members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – the panel that will hold confirmation hearings on Bush’s nominee to succeed Goss – also voiced concerns Sunday about a Hayden nomination and the growing role of the military in the ranks of U.S. intelligence agencies.
Hayden has spent most of his military career in intelligence work. Before joining the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was created in late 2004 to coordinate the activities of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, he headed the National Security Agency, which collects and analyzes intelligence gleaned by intercepting electronic signals.
That experience has been a particular source of controversy. Since Hayden’s name arose late last week in connection with the CIA vacancy, critics have cited his relative inexperience in the development and cultivation of human intelligence sources – an area seen as one of the CIA’s major shortcomings and a contributing factor in failing to detect the Sept. 11 plot.
Hayden also was an architect of an administration plan to monitor, without obtaining court orders, telephone conversations and Internet traffic of suspected terrorists communicating with individuals in the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.