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CIA pick promises to revamp agency

Eavesdropping, Iraq dominate Senate questioning in hearing

Gen. Michael Hayden faces senators at his confirmation hearing Thursday.


National Security Agency (NSA)
Military Intelligence
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Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Gen. Michael Hayden told senators Thursday that he would determine what the American public needs to know and what will remain secret if he is confirmed to take the reins of the embattled Central Intelligence Agency.

Before his confirmation hearing wrapped up for the day, Bush's pick to head the CIA took aim at the media, politicians and recent leaks emanating from the CIA and National Security Agency.

"True accountability is not served by inaccurate, harmful and illegal public disclosures," the 61-year-old Air Force general said. "I will draw a clear line between what we owe the American public by way of openness and what must remain secret in order for us to continue to do our jobs." (Watch Hayden say why it's time to move on -- :40)

Saying U.S. intelligence has become "the football in American political discourse," Hayden staunchly defended the NSA domestic eavesdropping program and said that if it had been in place before the attacks of September 11, 2001, authorities would have caught two of the 19 hijackers: Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.

"The NSA would have raised its hand and said, 'Hey, these guys are in San Diego,' " he said.

Hayden serves as deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte and was NSA director when President Bush authorized the program in October 2001.

He oversaw the classified program that involved the agency monitoring -- without obtaining court warrants -- phone calls, e-mails and other communications of people inside the United States with people overseas when at least one of the parties is a terrorism suspect.

Hayden said legal experts, including three NSA lawyers, told him at the time that the eavesdropping program -- which has been challenged by critics as an invasion of privacy -- was legal. He added that government officials charged with overseeing the program have found no improper activity.

"To the best of my knowledge, the folks out there are batting a thousand," he said. "No one has said there has been a targeting decision that was made that wasn't well-founded."

Hayden would not address in open session Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch's question of whether Americans with no terrorist affiliation had been targeted. He said only that logic would dictate that "sometimes you may not be right."

He also reserved comments on how long terrorism suspects in secret prisons abroad would be held and how often the prisoners' cases are reviewed.

The hearing went into closed session before adjourning for the day.

One senator spoke out against the eavesdropping program, but Hayden remained unfazed.

"Now, we have many of our citizens -- law-abiding, patriotic Americans -- who want to strike the balance between fighting terrorism and protecting liberty," Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon, said. "Now, they're questioning their government's word."

Iraq intelligence

Hayden remained similarly unfettered when Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas pointed out the CIA's "egregious intelligence failure" in asserting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction -- an assertion that President Bush used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

"This committee simply cannot accept intelligence assessments at face value," Roberts said. "Not having your actions second-guessed is something that is earned."

Hayden responded that he would call for a "vigorous transparency" in what is known and not known "so as not to give any decision-maker false confidence."

He added that intelligence experts learned from their experiences in Iraq and now know better how to evaluate the possible nuclear threat posed by Iran.

"I think our data is better, not night-and-day better," he said. "And our judgments are far more clear."

Grilled by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, Hayden acknowledged that the United States made a mistake by not factoring cultural and regional considerations into its assessments on Iraq.

"We're not doing that on Iran," he said. "How are decisions made in that country? Who are making those decisions? What are their real objectives?"

Hayden promised during the hearing that the CIA would be accountable during his tenure, though he made no such vows it would be forthcoming. (Watch Hayden explain how spy agencies differ -- :55)

He said that he would keep the Senate Intelligence Committee "fully informed" about what the CIA knows, but when a senator asked if the committee would have learned of the domestic eavesdropping program if The New York Times hadn't reported it, Hayden responded, "I simply have no way of answering that question. I don't know."

He also said he didn't know if U.S. authorities had visited secret prisons to ensure terror suspects were not being tortured.

He did say, however, that "the CIA will obey the laws of the United States and will respond to our treaty obligations."

After more than seven hours of discussion, Wyden expressed dismay at the quality of the information the committee has been receiving.

"For months and months, as a member of this committee, I have gotten most of my information about the key programs from the newspaper," he said. "I joke all the time, 'I'm only on the Intelligence Committee. What do I know?' "

If confirmed as CIA director, Hayden, a four-star general, will replace outgoing director Porter Goss, who resigned this month after losing what intelligence sources described as a power struggle with Negroponte. Negroponte has denied that a rift was the reason for Goss' departure.

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