Thursday, May 18, 2006

Striking the Right Note

I haven't been able to watch much of General Mike Hayden's confirmation hearings to be CIA Director. But, based on some soundbites I've heard (and partial transcripts I've reviewed), it appears that Hayden is striking the right notes in his testimony.

Consider his observation that the "CIA needs to get off the front page of the newspaper," both as a story and a source for stories. With the exception of a few outposts at Langley, you could almost hear the "amen" chorus across the intelligence community. Beyond members of the leakers brigade (appearing soon in a federal court near you), there is broad consensus within the intel rank-and-file that the CIA has lost its way, and needs a steady hand to get the agency back on course.

Hayden was also spot-on in his assessment that the agency has become a "political football." With assistance from malcontents on the inside, the agency has become (at least publicly) a defacto think tank for the Democratic Party. As Hayden noted, the agency's "leak" culture and various scandals have obscured the CIA's very real contributions to national security.

As we recently predicted in this space, General Hayden is more than capable of handling his interrogators in the Senate. When it comes to intelligence, he's clearly the smartest guy in the room, and second-guessers from both parties will look more foolish than informed when challenging him on various intel issues.


I was also intrigued by the opening remarks of the committee chairman, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas. Roberts praised the NSA (and its former leader, General Hayden) for its reaction to 9-11, and it's handling of those controversial programs. Senator Roberts noted that he has been to NSA and was briefed on those programs from the start. Translation: I've been in the loop since Day One, the programs are run within the letter of the law, and anyone who challenges them on "legal grounds" is playing a losing hand. Of course, the risk of looking foolish has never stopped the likes of Carl Levin or Arlen Spector. They'll keep lobbing their "tough" questions at General Hayden, and he'll keep knocking them out of the park.