Will Hayden Have a Chance?

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General Michael V. Hayden speaks after being announced as a nominee for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency this morning in Washington, D.C.

The White House moved quickly today to stem a surprising tide of objections from key Republicans on Capitol Hill to the nomination of Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

From floating the name of a respected former CIA operations chief as Hayden's prospective No. 2 to emphasizing his liberal arts background and calling him "An Independent Thinker And A Nonconformist" in a White House fact sheet, the campaign was intended to assuage doubts expressed by House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra and some Senate Republicans about installing the Air Force general atop the nation's civilian spy agency.

But it might not be enough to get everyone's support. House Speaker Dennis Hastert added his voice to those of influential Republicans signaling they may oppose the White House's quick pick of a military officer to run CIA. "The Speaker believes they should not have a military person leading the CIA, a civilian agency," Ron Bonjean, Hastert's communications director, told TIME this evening. Bonjean was confirming the tone of comments Hastert made at an appearance in Aurora, Ill., in which Hastert praised Goss and said moving Hayden to the CIA smacked of a "power grab" by Negroponte—adding that Negroponte had visited Hastert's office last week and not noted any problems with Goss.

Hastert had been one of Goss's closest friends on Capitol Hill. By contrast, Hastert said today that he didn't know Hayden and that the general had never paid him a visit. While Hastert runs the House and Hayden's nomination will be decided by the Senate, the Speaker's comments will carry significant weight among Republicans in both chambers.

Hayden, a polished congressional witness and acknowledged PowerPoint ninja whose high-level briefing skills are perhaps second to none in Washington, is all but certain to face questions on several fronts.

High on the list will be his handling during the six years he headed the National Security Agency of a major technological initiative called "Trailblazer" that was held out as a major advance in tracking the digital communications NSA was intercepting—but ended up in the virtual dustbin as a $1.2 billion flop, according to numerous published reports. With management skills a key aspect of the CIA directorship, particularly in the wake of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte's decision to oust Porter Goss from the post after a rocky 18 months on the job, the handling of such programs could be a point that Democrats wish to probe.

Another point of contention for the Dems is the NSA's warrantless surveillance of al-Qaeda-linked phone numbers and addresses inside the U.S. Gen. Hayden began that super-secret program soon after the September 11 attacks. He explained the program in such no-nonsense terms—calling it "hot pursuit" of possible terrorists on U.S. soil—and was so clear in insisting that American civil liberties were respected that some credit Hayden with helping the White House turn the disclosure of the controversial program into a political plus. The question is whether it will play well enough the second time around for President Bush that it again helps his historically low poll numbers.

"We expect quite a bit of questioning about this issue, but I believe that General Hayden will be very, very well equipped and very well prepared to answer any questions that might arise," Negroponte told reporters at the White House today.

Some national security officials were pleased with the prospect that Hayden would be moved to CIA —and away from aggressive efforts to manage the whole intelligence community. "I'm very happy to have Hayden go to the CIA. I want him out of my hair," says one senior official outside the CIA.

Hoekstra, while praising Hayden in general, said that naming a military officer to head the CIA, where the current deputy director is a Navy admiral, would send the wrong signal. "Our nation needs to maintain a balance between intelligence support to the military and long-term intelligence support to policymakers. By placing a military officer atop the CIA, we risk losing this balance, and we risk losing the critical, civilian intelligence analysis that policymakers need when making foreign policy decisions," Hoekstra said.

But officials expect that Adm. Bert Calland, a Navy SEAL, will step down in the same time-frame as Goss, leaving Negroponte and Hayden—likely with White House input—to pick a new deputy CIA director. Negroponte said at the White House that he is "seriously looking at" Stephen Kappes for that post—which would be a signal to the Agency's career workforce that one of their own would be returning to power after protesting Goss early on. The widely respected Kappes was named deputy CIA director for operations, in charge of the spy corps, under Director George Tenet. But soon after Goss took over at the CIA, Kappes quit along with his deputy Michael Sulick after declining to fire Sulick following a falling-out with Goss' chief of staff. Negroponte said Kappes "was one of their leading case officers and a leading member of their clandestine service. So I think his skill sets, together with General Hayden's background, will form a very nice balance... I think that's going to be a boost for the morale out there."

Also stepping down will be the CIA's executive director, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who was already on the way out even before Goss' departure was announced, one U.S. official said this afternoon. As part of an ongoing probe of defense contractors that has already sent ex-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham to prison, the Justice Department is looking into whether one of Cunningham's alleged benefactors gave Foggo improper gifts such as lavish travel, a knowledgeable source says. A CIA spokesman says Foggo denies any wrongdoing.

White House officials said they had worked extensively from Friday on through the weekend to test the waters and lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill about Hayden. They told Hoekstra of the planned nomination several days ahead of time, and knew he planned to make critical remarks in a weekend TV appearance. "We had a series of calls through Friday and Saturday to try and address his concerns," a senior administration official said. "We had more outreach with the Hill this weekend than on any prior nomination."