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Bush nominates Hayden as CIA chief

Some lawmakers question selection of military officer for post

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"This is simply too important not to get absolutely right," Gen. Michael Hayden said Monday.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN

Top intelligence assignments
  • Deputy director of national intelligence, April 2005-present
  • Director of the National Security Agency and chief of the Central Security Service, March 1999 to April 2005
  • Deputy chief of staff, U.N. Command and U.S. Forces Korea, September 1997 to March 1999
  • Commander, Air Intelligence Agency, and director, Joint Command and Control Warfare Center, January 1996 to September 1997

    Source: U.S. Air Force
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    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Monday nominated Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to be the new CIA chief, setting up a possible battle with members of Congress who question whether his military status is right for the spy agency.

    Hayden is "supremely qualified for this position," Bush said during an Oval Office announcement with the 61-year-old nominee, who is principal deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.

    "He's the right man to lead the CIA at this critical moment in our history," the president said. (Watch Bush say why he tapped Hayden -- 6:38)

    The Air Force four-star general would replace CIA Director Porter Goss, who abruptly resigned on Friday after losing what intelligence sources described as a power struggle with Negroponte -- a report that Negroponte denied on Monday.

    Hayden's selection is likely to bring renewed attention to the controversy surrounding the Bush administration's program to monitor communication into the United States by suspected terrorists without court warrants. The president authorized the program when Hayden headed the National Security Agency in 2001. (Watch general unrest over nomination for top spy -- 2:34)

    "There's probably no post more important in preserving our security and our values as a people than the head of the Central Intelligence Agency," Hayden said.

    He said he looked forward to the confirmation process in the Senate and working with Congress to continue to reform the intelligence agency.

    "This is simply too important not to get absolutely right," he said.

    Negroponte, during a news conference shortly after the announcement, said Hayden is a "very independent minded person" who's also outspoken. He asked those with concerns about Hayden's military affiliations to look at his qualifications as a former defense attaché in Bulgaria and as head of the National Security Agency.

    "As far as this concern that's been expressed about the military or the Pentagon taking over intelligence, I think that there's a lot of unfounded concerns there," Negroponte said. "... and we're also in a war, so it really stands to reason that we do have to work very closely with the Pentagon and with the armed services in our intelligence activities and we do precisely that."

    Hayden defended NSA program

    Over the weekend, Democratic and Republican members of Congress expressed concern about Hayden's military status.

    National security adviser Stephen Hadley said Hayden shouldn't have to resign his commission and that previous CIA chiefs have been military officers. (Hadley: Hayden an 'independent thinker')

    "The president actually thinks it's a strength," Hadley said. "He understands the military aspect of the intelligence business, but as I say, he's also had broad experience and can be an integrator and an agent of reform.

    "The key question is who's the right person for the job."

    U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said, "This appointment ... signals that we are not that concerned about having an independent intelligence community independent of the Department of Defense."

    Hoekstra said civilian government policy makers "need to get [intelligence] in an unvarnished way through a civilian, not through a military, lens." (Lawmakers raise concerns about Hayden's military status)

    Hadley said, "Anyone who knows Mike Hayden knows that he is a patriot and a professional and is an independent thinker. He has not been shy about expressing his views."

    The new CIA director must be confirmed by the Senate, which may bring Hayden's tenure as NSA director under scrutiny after Bush authorized the controversial anti-terrorism spy program.

    Critics -- many of whom are members of the Senate -- charge the surveillance program is a violation of law and an assault on civil liberties. Hayden has defended the program, insisting it is a necessary tool to thwart terrorists and that the process of obtaining warrants is too slow and cumbersome to deal with "a lethal enemy."

    Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California -- who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee -- said she has no objections to Hayden's nomination. "I think the most important thing is that the individual be a competent, qualified, intelligent professional, and Mike Hayden is all of those things."

    She said that while she supports a civilian leader of the CIA, "I don't know a civilian that's really as well-connected and competent in the present stage of intelligence in America, and I think that's relevant."

    Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, warned against making the wiretapping the focus of hearings.

    "His confirmation should not be about whether you're for or against the NSA program," said Harman, D-California. "It should be about whether he's the best man to transform the CIA into the premier clandestine service for the 21st century.

    "Porter Goss was the wrong guy and had a politically inexperienced staff with him. Mike Hayden is capable, but it's up to the Senate to ask him tough questions."

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