- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden cleared the first legislative hurdle to becoming director of the Central Intelligence Agency yesterday, with a few Democrats voting against his nomination because of his role in crafting the Bush administration’s telephone surveillance program.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted 12-3 behind closed doors in favor of the four-star Air Force general’s nomination. Voting “no” were Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and panel chairman, reported the vote and called Gen. Hayden an “outstanding choice” and a “proven leader.” Mr. Roberts urged a swift vote in the full Senate, which could confirm Gen. Hayden before next week’s Memorial Day break.

The eight Republicans and four Democrats supporting Gen. Hayden’s nomination said his independence was a deciding factor.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat present yesterday, said the general has shown “independence and some backbone, and a willingness to say no to power, because you’ve got to have someone in this position that speaks truth to power.”

Notably, Gen. Hayden has stood up to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Mr. Levin said.

The general would be an objective voice to the White House, differing from former Director George J. Tenet, who Mr. Levin said exaggerated information about weapons of mass destruction “in order to please the White House.”

The Democrats opposing Gen. Hayden praised his patriotism and credentials but each cited the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program and the nominee’s unwavering defense of the program as a source of discomfort.

“My vote was an objection to the administration’s unwillingness to ensure both our physical security and our civil liberties. We should not be forced to choose,” Mr. Bayh said.

Gen. Hayden, now the deputy director of national intelligence, last week defended the program, which he helped design as NSA chief after the September 11 attacks as legal and necessary to prevent further attacks.

Mr. Wyden said extensive questioning of the general failed to reconcile statements he made about the NSA program last year with published newspaper reports that the NSA is compiling a database of millions of domestic phone calls.

“We can’t have our government saying one thing and then doing another,” he said.

Most panel members were only briefed for the first time about the secret program last week before the confirmation hearing, as only 31 lawmakers were made aware of the program before its disclosure in newspapers last year.

Mr. Feingold said Gen. Hayden and President Bush have misled the country and have bucked congressional oversight. “I don’t see how you put somebody in charge of an agency like this who takes that view, even though he’s a fine individual,” he said.

Both Mr. Bayh and Mr. Feingold have been talked about as potential Democratic presidential candidates in 2008.

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