A military officer would be in charge of every major spy agency if President Bush nominates Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to run the CIA.
The question is: Will the headstrong CIA salute as he presses ahead with reforms?
Government officials all the way up to Mr. Bush have called this a time of transition at the CIA.
Its director, Porter J. Goss, announced his resignation Friday, as the CIA and the 15 other U.S. spy agencies still adjust to life in an era of intelligence overhauls ordered by Congress. A December 2004 law was the most sweeping redesign of U.S. intelligence since 1947.
Enter Gen. Hayden, National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte’s top deputy and former National Security Agency (NSA) chief, who is considered the front-runner to succeed Mr. Goss.
California Rep. Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that when she travels overseas, she hears concerns from civilian CIA professionals about whether the Defense Department is taking over intelligence operations. She shares those concerns.
“They see all these new DoD folks running around,” Mrs. Harman said yesterday. “There are probably more people in uniform running around the intelligence community than any other time in history.”
The White House said there was a “collective agreement” that the CIA needed a new leader. Deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters that Mr. Goss played an important role in the fight against terrorism and “helped transform the agency to meet the challenging times we’re living in.”
She added: “Reports that the president had lost confidence in Porter Goss are categorically untrue.”
As soon as tomorrow, the White House could announce Mr. Goss’ replacement, which is likely to be Gen. Hayden.
If he were to get the nomination, military officers would run the major spy agencies, from the ultrasecret NSA to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The next CIA chief must deal with low morale at the agency; uncertainties in the intelligence about hot spots such as Iran and North Korea; an insurgency in Iraq; and the pursuit of Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders.
Gen. Hayden’s potential impact at the CIA is difficult for many to predict because the agency’s mission in Iran, Iraq and elsewhere is hardly transparent. John Pike, director of the GlobalSecurity.org think tank, said U.S. foreign policy has become a military policy — a trend that began a decade ago.
With a general at the CIA’s helm, “it would represent the culmination of the militarization of the agency that has been under way for some time,” Mr. Pike said yesterday. “We are at war.”
Among other pressure points, the incoming director will have to decide where the CIA’s analysts will serve best — at the agency or new specialty centers, such as the National Counterterrorism Center.