Monday, May 08, 2006

Let the Confirmation Battle Begin

To absolutely no one's surprise (but some Congressional disappointment), President Bush today nominated Air Force General Mike Hayden to be the next Director of the CIA.

"Mike Hayden is supremely qualified for this position," said Mr. Bush in making the announcement. "He knows intelligence community from the ground up...he has been both a producer and consumer of intelligence." Hayden, the nation's highest-ranking military intelligence officer, appeared with President Bush in the Oval Office, where the nomination was announced.

We agree with the President. Hayden is a superb choice, an exceptionally effective intelligence leader who--if confirmed--can continue needed reforms at the CIA.

Unfortunately, Hayden's confirmation hearings may prove contentious. The general's role in the NSA domestic surveillance program (when he ran the National Security Agency) has some senators up in arms (paging Arlen Specter). Others are "concerned" about Hayden's status as an active duty military officer, fearing that it will give the military "too much control" over the nation's intelligence community.

As we pointed out yesterday, such "concerns" are basically a red herring. The Pentagon has long controlled the bulk of the nation's intelligence budget; afterall, they provide most of our collection assets. Additionally, there is a long history of military officers leading intelligence agencies; both the NSA director's job and the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency are, by law, military positions. And, in the early days of the CIA, the agency's first three directors were uniformed officers. Even the CIA's current deputy director is a Navy admiral, though that will apparently become a civilian billet, with Hayden coming onboard.

If American is serious about reforming the CIA, then General Hayden should have confirmation hearings that focus on genuine intelligence issues, not ill-founded concerns about what uniform he wears to the office. At this juncture in the War on Terror, General Hayden (and the agency) deserve a speedy confirmation process, and a quick up-or-down vote. Hayden is hardly an unknown commodity on Capitol Hill and in the intelligence community; his outstanding record speaks for itself.

This is not, as some of the chattering class suggest, "another Harriet Miers." Hayden is the right man for the job, at the right time. If he somehow fails to win confirmation, it will only underscore my long-standing fears about Congress: when it comes to the serious busienss of intelligence reform, our representatives and Senators aren't up to the task.

Addendum: Journalist James Bamford, who has written two best-selling books about the NSA and has interviewed Hayden extensively, believes the general's chances of confirmation "have dropped below" 50%. I sincerely hope he's wrong.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Retiredspy--an excellent point, and I apologize for falling into that drive-by media habit. The primary targets are international communications, that is someone in the U.S. (with suspected terrorist ties) talking to someone overseas.

I anticipate that General Hayden will "gently" set the Senators straight during his confirmation hearings.