For most of the day, we've heard various members of Congress and the drive-by media express "concern" about General Mike Hayden's nomination to be the next CIA Director. Just a few hours ago, Senator John Kerry (you may recall, he served in Vietnam) told a firefighters' convention that he had "serious reservations" about Hayden's selection because "he is one of the main supporters of Donald Rumsfeld who helped put in place the programs of spying on Americans and has been one of the biggest defenders of it." Not exactly a pithy soundbite, but you've got to give Kerry credit for capturing all of the DNC talking points in a single sentence.
Other senators (chief among them, Pennsylvania's Arlen Spector) promised to use the confirmation hearings to ask "tough questions" about the NSA's controversial "domestic" surveillance program. You'll note the quotation marks around the word domestic, because, as another retired spook reminded me, the term does not accurately describe the NSA effort. As General Hayden explained back in January, the program covers communications between suspected terrorists or facilitators in the United States and their counterparts overseas.
You might also recall that Mr. Spector and his co-horts were prepared to ask those questions a few months ago, when the Senate had an opportunity to hold hearings on the matter. But something happened along the way. The Senate decided to take a pass on hearings, for reasons that were never quite clear. The truth is, Senate critics quickly discovered they didn't have a leg to stand on, particulary after it was disclosed that General Hayden (who was NSA Director at the time) had briefed key members of Congress from the start. The Senators also discovered ample evidence that the NSA program was run in full compliance with the law, and more importantly, it was yielding valuable information on terrorist activties.
If this kind of talk from Capitol Hill sounds vaguely familiar, it should be. Not too many months ago, Senators were vowing to grill Supreme Court nominee John Roberts on abortion and other high-profile issues. But that inquisition never quite materialized, either. In his confirmation hearings, Justice Robert dazzled everyone, demonstrating legal depth and understanding that was far beyond that, of say, Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy or the Senate stafferes that furnished their questions. The Roberts confirmation hearings never quite became a love-fest, but as the nominee kept knocking their "hard" queries out of the park, the senators decided to cut their losses, and given Roberts an up-or-down vote.
The Hayden hearings may prove to be a similar tour-de-force for the nominee. Mike Hayden isn't as telegenic as John Roberts, but when it comes to intelligence matters, no one is more knowledgable, or experienced. General Hayden has served his country as an intelligence officer for more than 40 years, in positions ranging from analyst to agency director. He will enter the hearing room loaded for bear, with a formidable grasp of intel issues that no Senator or staffer can match. And, as he demonstrated in January, General Hayden is capable of defending controversial intelligence programs with compelling facts and logic. His powerful arguments in favor of the surveillance effort are one reason why the Senate took a pass on those promised hearings a few months ago.
Any Senator wishing to go toe-to-toe with Mike Hayden on matters of intelligence management, analysis, operations or doctrine does so at his own public peril. In boxing terms, the Roberts cpmfor,atopm was a first-round knock-out, and General Hayden can deliver the same type of performance when he enters the hearing room.
From the "grasping at straws" department, USA Today weighed in with this howler on supposed "holes" in Hayden's resume. According to the experts at the paper, Hayden may have trouble winning confirmation because of (a) his lack of experience in HUMINT matters and (b) a lack of assignments in the Middle East. While we've noted in the past that General Hayden has never been a HUMINT officer, that does not disqualify him for the CIA job. As a career intelligence officer (with more than 35 years of experience), Hayden has led organizations with HUMINT departments, most notably the intelligence directorate (J-2) at U.S. European Command.
Additionally, most critics overlook Hayden's tour at the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria, where he served as a defense attache. One of the primary missions of any attache is--guess what--gathering information, so the idea that Hayden lacks HUMINT skills is ludicrous. Besides, the President nominated General Hayden to run the CIA, not agent networks in the field. Hayden has more than enough experience in HUMINT to and find the right people to run the agency's field operations, and revitalize that directorate within the agency.
His supposed "lack of experience in the Middle East" is another non-starter. As DIRNSA (Director of NSA) he received daily updates on intelligence in that region, and he's made more than a few trips to that region. The NSA's recent success against terrorists are a reflection of a director who understood that threat, and empowered his people to get the job done. He can do the same thing at Langley, despite these gaping "holes" in his resume.