Hayden courts Senate support

CIA nominee appears open to change in spying law, Democrat says

May 11, 2006|By GWYNETH K. SHAW | GWYNETH K. SHAW,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- With his confirmation hearing a week away, Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden met privately with senators yesterday, working to ease concerns about his nomination to be the CIA's next director.

Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said Hayden indicated to him that the Bush administration "may be closer" to asking for a change in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to include the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping. The 1978 law requires the government to obtain a warrant before spying on people inside the country - and while the administration has argued that President Bush had the authority to order the eavesdropping, some lawmakers have accused the White House of breaking the law.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she talked with Hayden about his vision for the CIA during her 40-minute session with him.

Mikulski, who said she knows Hayden well from his tenure at Fort Meade-based NSA, called him "a competent professional who has really served his country." But she said she would reserve judgment on his nomination until the hearings are over.

"I want the hearings to unfold because we're now talking about a different job" than Hayden's current position, as deputy director of national intelligence, and his six years as head of the NSA.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said the panel would hold an open hearing on Hayden's nomination on May 18, with a closed session immediately afterward to allow for discussion of classified topics. In a statement, Chairman Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, said the fast schedule was needed to ensure that outgoing CIA chief Porter J. Goss, who resigned last week, would be replaced quickly.

"The nation needs leadership in the Central Intelligence Agency, and the committee has a responsibility to move quickly on this important nomination," Roberts said.

Mikulski said she would have preferred an extra week to prepare for the hearing but said "we'll be ready" to press him on his ability to do the job - including the successes and failures of his time at the NSA - by next Thursday.

As he awaits the opening of the hearing, Hayden continued a series of face-to-face meetings with key senators. Yesterday, the list included Republican Sens. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Trent Lott of Mississippi, as well as Mikulski and Durbin.

Durbin said his questions for Hayden focused on three issues: the general's ability to be independent of the Pentagon, his opinions about congressional efforts to bar U.S. personnel from torturing prisoners, and his role in shaping the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping program.

Hayden, 61, has been National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte's second in command for a year. Before that, he spent six years at the helm of the NSA and has had a long career in military intelligence.

He has received hearty endorsements from some lawmakers, including Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. But others in both parties have questioned whether his long military service would make it difficult for him to resist pressure from the Pentagon in turf battles over intelligence gathering and analysis.

Some senators also have expressed concern over Hayden's role in the NSA's domestic eavesdropping program, which began during his tenure at the agency and has been a flash point on Capitol Hill.

Durbin said Hayden assured him that he would be able to stand up to the Defense Department. He said Hayden offered examples of prior clashes over intelligence reform legislation and interactions with advisers to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Hayden said he would have to get back to the senator about torture legislation, which has been a source of friction between the White House and lawmakers, Durbin said.

Durbin said that when he asked why Hayden and others in the administration had not come to Congress for authorization of the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping operation when lawmakers were drafting the USA Patriot Act after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the general said that doing so would have jeopardized the program by making it public.

But now that the program's existence is known, Hayden said, there might be a way to write it into the FISA law, according to Durbin.

Durbin, who is not a member of the intelligence panel, said it was too soon to say whether he would support Hayden's confirmation. He said he thought Hayden's answers "were very good, but they weren't complete."

"There's still a lot more questions to be asked and answered," Durbin said.

Snowe, who sits on the committee and has been critical of the NSA's eavesdropping, said that she suggested Hayden retire from the Air Force in order to make a statement about his independence and that he "did not foreclose" the possibility of doing so.

Like Durbin, Snowe did not take a position on Hayden's nomination, though she did say that she expected him to be confirmed.

"But we want to go through a very rigorous confirmation process," she said.

gwyneth.shaw@baltsun.com

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