- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2006

Elevating Gen. Michael Hayden to CIA director would place a consummate intelligence professional with 20-plus years of experience at the helm of a troubled spy agency. Best known for his strong defense in January of NSA’s terrorist surveillance program, Gen. Hayden has working ties to the White House after serving for six years as NSA chief and deputy to Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. He has a reputation for straight talk and is no liege of CIA careerists. Contrary to Rep. Peter Hoekstra, quoted yesterday as disapproving strongly, Gen. Hayden is the right man at the right place at the right time.

The emerging line of criticism is that placing the CIA under Gen. Hayden — a career Air Force officer — puts too many of the nation’s spy agencies in the hands of military officers and sends the wrong message to operatives in the field. But this “military service” line is already falling apart under scrutiny. For one, plenty of current and former military officers have occupied the CIA’s top slot — 13 of the 19 since the agency’s creation, in fact — without much congressional revolt on that account. Nor is there a careerist revolt each time a military man assumes the head of the Operations Directorate, which is almost as important in the CIA’s world as the director’s slot.

Presumably a case could be made that a military man becoming CIA chief should be retired, unlike the active-duty Gen. Hayden. But the congressional intelligence chairs aren’t making that case. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, said Gen. Hayden’s service would actually help his case, and Mr. Hoekstra said it didn’t matter.

The irony of the “too many military officers” line is rich, not least because it boils down to worries about undue centralization. It was Congress which, in its drive to “do something” after the September 11 terrorist attacks, insisted on creating an intelligence czar whose office is meant to function as a centralized intelligence clearinghouse. In some respects this is the same problem that undermined the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which lost its way after being folded into the Homeland Security Department after “reform” took place.

The twofold backdrop to all this is the ouster of CIA Director Porter Goss and the flight of previously sympathetic Republican congressmen from President Bush. It’s too soon to know the real back story of the Goss ouster. The other backdrop, the Republican flight from Mr. Bush, speaks for itself, as do polling numbers and lawmakers’ reaction to them. There were no worries about military dominance of intelligence agencies last summer when the Senate confirmed Gen. Hayden to be Mr. Negroponte’s deputy. Some portion of the outcry over Gen. Hayden has everything to do with perceived proximity to a White House whose numbers are in the dumps.

All of which should be separated from debates over Gen. Hayden’s merits. The chaos in the intelligence services has many causes, but installing a CIA director with a combination of intelligence expertise and independence from the bureaucracy strikes us as key to any remedy.

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