Sunday, December 7, 2008

A whisper campaign among intelligence officers is rallying support for CIA Director Michael V. Hayden to continue in his post during the Obama administration, after the man widely thought to be the new president’s first choice for the job withdrew from consideration last month.

“Asking Hayden to stay on for a period of time would just make sense,” said a senior government official and Hayden supporter, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. “Hayden has done an extraordinary job lifting the morale of the agency, and he’s been vital in the war on terror. It’s not an easy position to fill.”

President-elect Barack Obama, who is rumored to be seeking a successor for Mr. Hayden, has so far shown no indication of his plans for the CIA director, who has served since May 2006. Brooke Anderson, national security spokeswoman for the Obama transition team, declined to comment on the subject Saturday.

John Diamond, a veteran journalist covering the intelligence community and the author of “The CIA and the Culture of Failure,” praised Mr. Hayden for restoring CIA morale after the tenure of Porter J. Goss.

“It’s conceivable he could be a transition figure for a limited period of time while the Obama camp considers options,” Mr. Diamond said.

He noted, however, that Mr. Hayden had been associated with some very controversial policies and was instrumental in formulating the Bush administration’s surveillance program after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. While Mr. Hayden was not responsible for devising harsh new interrogation procedures, “he did defend them vigorously before Congress,” Mr. Diamond said.

His role in the warrantless surveillance program was a major subject of his confirmation hearings and the main reason why Mr. Obama, as a senator, voted against the nomination.

Mr. Obama and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates also disagreed on some issues, including missile defense and a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, but that didn’t stop Mr. Obama from asking Mr. Gates to remain in his job.

John Brennan, counterterrorism specialist and former director for the National Counterterrorism Center, had been a top adviser to the Obama campaign on intelligence issues and was widely thought to be the top choice for CIA director.

But Mr. Brennan, who held senior positions under former CIA Director George J. Tenet, removed himself from consideration amid a firestorm from liberal bloggers who associated him with the Bush administration’s unpopular interrogation, detention and rendition policies.

Others mentioned for the CIA post include Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat, and Donald M. Kerr Jr., a longtime CIA official who is currently the deputy director of national intelligence.

Chief CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield told The Times that Mr. Hayden has tried to “ignore” rumors about whether he will stay on the job or be succeeded.

“As Director Hayden has said, with every transition comes all sorts of speculation about personnel changes across government,” Mr. Mansfield said. “Director Hayden understands that he serves at the pleasure of the president, and he is focused on running the CIA.”

Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell said in a Nov. 12 speech that he and Mr. Hayden, if asked “to stay on for some reason, for a period of time, we would stay and assist them in the transition.”

Mr. Obama is expected to meet with Mr. Hayden in the near future for a briefing on the state of the war, a senior intelligence official said.

In the meantime, Hayden supporters have tried to disassociate the CIA director from the Bush administration counterrorism detention and interrogation programs that Mr. Obama routinely railed against during his campaign.

“Waterboarding, which was used on three hardened terrorists, hasn’t been used since 2003. That is more than three years before Mike Hayden became the director of CIA,” said an intelligence source with knowledge of the subject.

The source added that current administration policies and U.S. laws directed the CIA’s actions.

“If the president says he doesn’t want something done, that’s it,” the source said. “These are his programs.”

Numerous intelligence officials, who have spoken to The Times said that morale is higher and that there has been a “clear focus on the mission.”

An intelligence official added that Mr. Hayden’s ability to play “offense against terrorists” has “helped keep the country safe.”

“Mike Hayden has done a lot of good over there,” the official said. “If the new administration goes in a different direction, Mike will leave the place in far better shape than he found it. That’s indisputable.”

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