From intelligence post, looking at the big picture

No. 2 official is known for aggressive vision in the Air Force and at the NSA

October 06, 2005|By SIOBHAN GORMAN | SIOBHAN GORMAN,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- Michael V. Hayden sets his alarm for 4:30 a.m. That way, he can fit in a five-mile run to clear his mind before heading to work as the nation's No. 2 intelligence official.

A hard-driving Air Force general, Hayden is the self-described "inside guy" on the team running the new intelligence office. His partner, and boss, is John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, overseeing all 15 federal intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency, which Hayden formerly led.

"We're interchangeable," Hayden said in his first interview since taking the job in April. About one morning a week, Hayden fills in for Negroponte at President Bush's daily intelligence briefing, usually held in the Oval Office at the start of the president's work day.

In the Air Force and particularly at the NSA, Hayden developed a solid reputation for understanding the technical wizardry of intelligence collection and, sometimes, shaking up the status quo. Long before Sept. 11, 2001, he saw the need to improve the NSA's ability to process the roughly 2 million bits of communications information that the agency's technical devices gather every hour.

Hayden also won acclaim on Capitol Hill for cracking open the door of the highly secretive NSA, offering the public a glimpse of what the agency and its 32,000 employees do.

"No nonsense" and "straight up" is how Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland describes him.

Yet while Hayden, 60, won plaudits for laying out a course to bring the Cold War-vintage NSA into the modern age, some former colleagues said he has not always been able to make his aggressive visions a reality.

"He's going to need some nudging along the way to make sure he stays grounded and doesn't forget what's important at that application and operational level," said retired Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes, a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who has known Hayden for two decades.

Describing Hayden as "a cosmic thinker," he said, "We need people like that."

Hayden works out of cramped, temporary quarters in a federal building not far from the White House. His staff has been "hot racking," as one aide described their system of taking shifts at desks because space is so tight.

His office is no more than a third the size of the one he occupied at the NSA, though he's been able to shoehorn in a conference table and couch. Negroponte's office is next-door.

In his first months on the job, Hayden has put his experience to use. One former senior intelligence official noted that the forthcoming strategy for Negroponte's operation looks "a lot like the NSA strategy," including a "centralized management" that relies heavily on the individual intelligence agencies to execute plans.

Hayden is the son of a welder and grew up in a working-class neighborhood in North Pittsburgh. He showed an early proclivity for seeing the big picture.

Though not particularly tall as a teenager, he earned the quarterback slot on the football team.

"I was asked, `Why did you make him quarterback?' and I said, `Because he's the smartest kid here,'" and could see the whole game plan, said Dan Rooney, Hayden's coach when he was in eighth grade, and now owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Focus and toughness also displayed themselves early, said Harry Hayden, his younger brother. "From a young age, he was able to combine three things," he said, "a blue-collar work ethic, amazing intellectual mind and street smarts."

He recalled a time when a bully was chasing him home and his brother was sitting on the front step, reading a book.

"He ran after the bully, kicked him in the butt, sat right down and never lost his place," his brother said. "He kind of does the same thing now, just on a larger level."

At the NSA, which he took over in 1999, "Mike's legacy is organizational," said retired Adm. William O. Studeman, a former NSA director.

Hayden is also credited with improving the NSA's relationships with foreign governments, an area of personal interest to him.

As he settles into his role, Hayden said, he's mindful that the work of his office will be measured by what it produces. He pointed to four projects, including the FBI's new domestic intelligence branch, where he hopes that progress will be most visible.

Hayden said he takes with him a lesson from his years at the NSA: "Be relentless."

"We're changing fundamental things," he said. "It doesn't take ill will or incompetence to make this hard, but you have to keep pressing."

siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.