Ignoring opposition from Congress, President Bush nominated Gen. Michael V. Hayden on Monday to be the next CIA director, setting the stage for a confirmation struggle that is certain to focus on Hayden’s military background and his role in a controversial domestic eavesdropping operation.
The Bush administration also moved swiftly to reassure beleaguered CIA employees by pledging that the agency would not be dismantled under Hayden, and offering the No. 2 position to a respected former spy who had resigned over clashes with outgoing director Porter J. Goss.
In pushing ahead with the Hayden nomination, the White House is staking the CIA’s future on a strait-laced Air Force officer who is often praised for his keen understanding of complex intelligence issues as well as his plain-spoken style.
But Hayden, who for six years was director of the National Security Agency, is also associated with almost every intelligence issue that has become a problem for the administration -- including the failure to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks, misjudgments about weapons programs in Iraq, and eavesdropping on U.S. residents without court warrants.
Nonetheless, the White House apparently is willing to revive the eavesdropping debate to highlight national security issues, which have been a political plus for the administration.
Some lawmakers also have expressed concern about putting a military officer in charge of a civilian agency at a time when the Defense Department is seen as expanding its involvement in spying operations and increasingly encroaching on the CIA’s turf, prompting fears that the agency will be “gobbled up” by the Pentagon.
Bush sought to brush back congressional critics, citing Hayden’s extensive experience in a series of national security assignments, and declaring him “the right man to lead the CIA at this critical moment in our nation’s history.”
But even after Monday’s major public relations push by the White House, opposition on Capitol Hill continued to mount, including unusually harsh responses from ordinarily loyal Republican leaders.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) declared his opposition to Hayden’s appointment, siding with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, a Republican from Michigan.
Hastert “believes a military figure should not be the head of a civilian agency,” said Ron Bonjean, Hastert’s spokesman. Bonjean also said that Hastert had been “informed but not consulted” about Hayden’s selection.
Some of Hayden’s supporters see a difficult struggle ahead, conceding that the political stars are not aligning the way the White House and its nominee might have hoped.
“He’s going to have to jump through a lot of hoops, and he may not make it,” said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee who supports Hayden’s nomination.
The response was more muted on the Senate side of the Capitol, where Hayden’s confirmation vote will take place.
But there too, key Republicans stopped well short of expressing enthusiasm for a candidate who was confirmed unanimously a year ago for the No. 2 job in the U.S. intelligence community.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: “While I am not opposed to his nomination, senators, including myself, will have important questions which they will want addressed prior to any confirmation vote.”
Roberts said that he expected Hayden to be confirmed nevertheless, and that he planned to schedule Intelligence Committee hearings on the nomination before the end of the month.
Among Senate Democrats, misgivings centered mainly on Hayden’s role in running the domestic surveillance program, which was authorized by Bush in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and exposed publicly in news reports last year.
Under the ongoing program, the NSA has monitored communications of U.S. residents without court warrants, bypassing requirements of a 1978 law designed to protect Americans against such surveillance.
The White House has defended the operation by saying that it was necessary to prevent follow-up attacks on U.S. soil, and was limited to international calls between U.S. residents and individuals overseas suspected of ties to Al Qaeda.
Members of both parties have questioned the program’s legality, and called for new measures that would subject such domestic spying to judicial and congressional scrutiny. Hayden was responsible for running the program, and has also played a leading role in defending it publicly.
“It is not a driftnet over Dearborn or Lackawanna or Freemont,” Hayden said in a January speech. “This is hot pursuit of communications entering or leaving America involving someone we believe is associated with Al Qaeda.”
Hayden’s role defending the operation has troubled some lawmakers.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, complained in a recent letter to Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte that he was dismayed that Hayden had become “a key participant in this White House public relations strategy intended to deflect criticism of the NSA program.”
A senior Democratic aide on the Senate Intelligence Committee said the issue raised questions about Hayden’s independence from the White House.
“He became an extension of the White House press office,” said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the press.
Hayden, 61, has spent the bulk of his career in intelligence work. The Pittsburgh native served as an analyst at the Strategic Air Command in the early 1970s and was a defense attache in the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria during the Cold War. He went on to hold a series of high-level positions in the military and in the National Security Council at the White House.
His six years at the helm of the NSA make him the longest-serving director of that agency. But critics point to a series of blunders on Hayden’s watch.
During his tenure, the NSA invested billions of dollars in computer systems that failed to deliver expected results. The agency also intercepted Al Qaeda warnings -- including a Sept. 10, 2001, boast that “Tomorrow is zero hour” -- but failed to translate them until it was too late.
Even so, Hayden’s stock in the administration has continued to rise. After Congress passed a sweeping intelligence reform bill in late 2004, Hayden was picked to serve as the top deputy to Negroponte.
At a White House briefing on Monday, Negroponte made it clear that he sees Hayden as a solution to problems left behind by Goss, who resigned under pressure last week.
Negroponte said Hayden would “improve the morale” at the agency, and described him as “a reformer who understands the imperative that we create a truly integrated intelligence community.”
But in the sharpest rebuke to Goss, Negroponte also announced plans to nominate Stephen Kappes to serve as deputy CIA director under Hayden.
Kappes, 54, was among the first in a series of high-level agency officers who resigned early in Goss’ tenure over leadership disagreements and complaints of mistreatment of agency veterans by members of Goss’ senior staff.
Kappes, Negroponte said, “was one of their leading case officers and a leading member of their clandestine service.” A Russian and Farsi speaker who had spent more than a decade overseas, Kappes rose through the ranks to become the deputy director of operations before he left.
Kappes did not respond to a telephone message and e-mail seeking comment.
Former CIA officials said that Kappes would complement Hayden, who has little experience with human spying operations. Bringing Kappes back, they said, probably would improve morale in the clandestine service and send a reassuring signal to agency employees.
“Putting Kappes in there is certainly a way to reach out to the troops,” said Tyler Drumheller, former head of the European division of the CIA’s clandestine service.
“Kappes is not going to sit around and watch the agency be whittled down to nothing,” Drumheller said, adding that hiring Kappes would be seen as a “repudiation of everything Porter [Goss] wanted to do.”
One of Goss’ senior aides, CIA Executive Director Kyle Dustin “Dusty” Foggo, has already agreed to resign, saying in an e-mail to agency employees that he had “decided to step aside,” according to a U.S. intelligence official.
Foggo is under investigation by the CIA inspector general’s office for a contract the agency awarded to a San Diego businessman and lifelong friend of Foggo linked to the bribery scandal involving former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe). The FBI also is examining the contract, the Associated Press reported Monday.
Times staff writer Janet Hook contributed to this report.