Accessibility links

Breaking News

U.S.: Bush Makes Controversial Choice For Next CIA Director

U.S. President George W. Bush (file photo) (CTK) WASHINGTON, May 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush today nominated Air Force General Michael Hayden as his candidate for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA. If approved by the Senate, he would replace Porter Goss, who resigned Friday.

But it's far from certain that the Senate will confirm Hayden.

Already, members of both leading parties -- Republican and Democrat -- are objecting. Some cite his involvement in a domestic surveillance program, which is of questionable legality, and others say a military man should not be put in charge of a civilian intelligence agency.

In nominating Hayden as CIA director, Bush said Hayden has unique qualifications to be director of central intelligence.

"The bottom line -- I do believe he is the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time." Rep. Peter Hoekstra (Republican, Michigan), House Intelligence Committee chairman

"Mike knows our intelligence community from the ground up," Bush said. "He has been both a provider and a consumer of intelligence. He has overseen the development of both human and technological intelligence."

Hayden appeared with Bush at the White House and thanked the president. He said he would approach the job with greatreverence for its importance. And he said he welcomes the questions he'll face in Congress.

"In the confirmation process, I look forward to meeting with the members of the Congress, better understanding their concerns, and working with them to move the American intelligence community forward," Hayden said. "This simply too important not to get absolutely right."

Military Status Raises Concerns

The questioning Hayden faces is likely to be tough, given the objections that have been raised by members of Congress.

One is Representative Peter Hoekstra (Republican, Michigan). Because he is a member of the House, he will not be voting on Hayden's nomination. But as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he is influential on such matters.

Porter Goss (left), the former CIA chief, resigned on May 5 (AFP)

Hoekstra told the U.S. television program "Fox News Sunday" that he respects Hayden, but objects to the general's military background.

"I've got a lot of respect for Mike Hayden. I think he has done a very good job in the positions that he has had, he has got a distinguished career. The bottom line -- I do believe he is the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time," Hoekstra said. "We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time."

Hoekstra said this could create the impression that the agency is under Pentagon control. He said there were already ongoing tensions between the civilian intelligence agency and the Defense Department.

Two prominent Democrats -- Senator Joseph Biden (Delaware) and Representative Nancy Pelosi (California), the House minority leader -- agreed.

"There is a power struggle going on between the Department of Defense and the entire rest of the intelligence community, so I don't see how you have a four-star general heading up the CIA," Pelosi said.

Some Supporters

Hayden was head of the National Security Agency, or NSA, the super-secret U.S. surveillance office, at the time shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when Bush authorized the NSA to conduct surveillance within the United States without acquiring required court warrants.

U.S. law requires court supervision of any surveillance within the country. Bush has argued that the U.S. Constitution gives the president the authority to use any tool available to protect Americans during wartime. Bush also says it was Hayden who proposed the domestic spying program.

Pelosi expressed concern about Hayden's involvement in the domestic surveillance program in an interview yesterday on another U.S. television news program, "Meet The Press."

"I have serious concerns about General Hayden," she said. "First of all, he is too closely tied into this question of domestic surveillance, which should be looked into, but not in the course of a confirmation hearing for the head of the Central Intelligence Agency."

Senator Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania) is a Republican who has disagreed with the White House on many issues, including the domestic surveillance program. At the same time, he welcomed Hayden's nomination -- if only to give the Senate an opportunity to question him about that issue.

The reaction from Congress wasn't all negative, however. Republican Senator John McCain (Arizona) said he hopes Hayden is confirmed. McCain said on U.S. television that the general is less influenced by his military background than his intelligence expertise.

(Valentinas Mite contributed to this report.)

RFE/RL Iran Report

RFE/RL Iran Report

SUBSCRIBE For regular news and analysis on Iran by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Iran Report."