WASHINGTON – Gen. Michael Hayden faced tough questions regarding his involvement with the National Security Agency wiretapping program,his stance on privacy issues and thoughts on national security during his confirmation hearing Thursday.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence interrogated Hayden for more than six hours as they considered the Air Force general's nomination for the post of Central Intelligence Agency director.
The NSA surveillance program has come under widespread scrutiny after it was revealed the agency was collecting information on domestic phone calls and overseas correspondents. Hayden argued that if the program had been in place before 9/11,that at least two of the hijackers could have been caught. Hayden put the program into effect while he was NSA director.
Conversation throughout the day was saturated with talk of where civil liberties and national security intersect and boundaries between the two. The discussion provoked strong emotions from both sides of the aisle.
Sen. Pat Roberts,R-Kan.,the committee chair,said in his opening statement,“I have often said and I will say again: I trust the American people. They do have a right to know. I do not trust our enemies. Unfortunately,there is no way to inform the public without informing our adversaries.”
Roberts added,“There are no civil liberties when you are dead.”
Hayden responded calmly during questioning,frequently deferring his answers to a later closed session.
Democratic senators expressed discontent,saying several committee members had been left out of national security program briefings. Sen. Ron Wyden,D-Ore.,pointed to the NSA Act of 1947,which mandates congressional briefing on NSA issues.
“You and the Bush administration have failed to keep the Congress informed,” he said.
Wyden then asked,“If we had not read about the warrantless wiretapping program in the New York Times last December,would 14 of the 16 members of this Senate Intelligence Committee ever heard about this program in a way consistent with the national security?”
Hayden responded,“Senator I simply have no way of answering that question. I don't know.”
Sen. Olympia Snowe,R-Maine,also criticized NSA's handling of intelligence. “Notification to a very limited group is not the checks and balances the founding fathers had in mind,” she said.
Sen. John Warner,R-Va.,praised Hayden's efforts in the NSA and military. Warner and Sen. Chuck Hagel,R-Neb.,also discussed Hayden's plan for reorganizing the CIA. Hagel noted the influx of younger workers into the agency.
“This is the youngest analytical work force in the history of the CIA,” Hayden said. Hayden also said it was also the least experienced.
If confirmed,Hayden will be the third CIA chief in two years. Porter Goss,a former Republican congressman,resigned earlier this month. Goss was preceded by George Tenet,who was scrutinized for providing what some argued was faulty intelligence regarding the case for the Iraq war.
In his opening statement,Hayden made clear his intentions to take the CIA out of the national media.
“I believe that the intelligence business has become the football in American political discourse,” said Hayden,who frequently made allusions to sports in his testimony. “We will do our lesson-learned studies.”
But he added,“I also believe that its time to move past what seems to be an endless picking apart of the archaeology of every past intelligence failure and success.”
The CIA has suffered other classified information breaches,including the Valerie Plame scandal,which led to the indictment of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby,Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff.
“Accountability is one thing,” Hayden said,“but a true accountability is not served by inaccurate,harmful,and illegal public disclosures.”