- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

1:54 p.m.

Senators spent the morning grilling Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden over the Bush administration’s politically explosive telephone surveillance program during a confirmation hearing over his nomination to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.

Gen. Hayden, the deputy director of national intelligence, was chief of the National Security Agency and helped design the warrantless surveillance program following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts opened with a staunch defense of the program, which supporters say prevents terrorist attacks and opponents say infringes on the civil liberties of everyday Americans.

“The fact that we have not had another tragedy like 9/11 is no accident,” the Kansas Republican said.

The full panel was briefed for the first time yesterday about the secret program, a fact that irked many of its members.

For several years, just a handful of lawmakers, including the top two members of the House and Senate intelligence panels and each chambers leaders, were privy to the details. Nearly all of the 535 voting members of Congress first learned of the program when it was disclosed in newspapers last year.

“Frankly, if it was good enough yesterday to be briefed then why wasnt it good enough to brief the full committees five years ago?” asked Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican.

She said notifying such a limited group “is not the kind of checks and balances that I think our Founding Fathers had in mind” and “undermines our ability to perform the roles that were required to do.”

The nominee, a four-star general, said he believes the surveillance program is lawful and noted it has been reviewed by the Department of Justice. He also defended the limited briefings by noting there were no restrictions on what he could or couldnt share with those present.

In his opening statement, he promised that if confirmed to lead the agency, he will study the lessons learned by past intelligence failures such as the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

“It is time to move past what seems to be an endless picking apart of the archaeology of every past intelligence failure and success,” he said.

He also said the agency must be ever vigilant to protect from threats such as al Qaeda and nuclear proliferation by Iran and North Korea.

“I will draw a clear line between what we owe the American public by way of openness and what must remain secret in order for us to continue to do our job as charged,” Gen. Hayden said. “CIA needs to get out of the news, as source or subject, and focus on protecting the American people by acquiring secrets and providing high-quality all-source analysis.”

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat present yesterday, asked whether the surveillance program is limited to international calls or intrudes on the privacy of tens of millions of Americans.

“This balance between security and liberty was foremost in our minds,” Gen. Hayden responded, noting he would elaborate in a closed session later this afternoon because of the program’s confidentiality.

If confirmed, Gen. Hayden will be the fourth person to lead the agency since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

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