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Bush Defends CIA Nominee, Domestic Eavesdropping

  • Michael Bowman

President Bush has defended his choice to head the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as controversial domestic eavesdropping efforts designed to prevent terrorist attacks.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, Mr. Bush said General Michael Hayden is eminently qualified to lead the CIA, an agency he described as essential to the security of the American people.

"For the last year, he's been our Nation's first deputy director of national intelligence, and has played a critical role in our efforts to reform America's intelligence capabilities to meet the threats of a new century," said Mr. Bush. "He has more than 20 years of experience in the intelligence field. He served for six years as director of the National Security Agency and has a track record of success in leading and transforming that large intelligence agency."

Mr. Bush, who left the White House Friday for the Camp David presidential retreat, nominated Hayden to replace outgoing CIA Director Porter Goss earlier this week. Hayden is expected to face sharp questions at his Senate confirmation hearing following reports about the federal government's domestic spying activities in pursuit of suspected terrorists.

More questions arose Thursday when a U.S. newspaper, USA Today, reported that the National Security Agency has obtained millions of telephone records from major U.S. telephone companies. General Hayden headed the NSA when the agency is alleged to have initiated the program in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The White House has neither confirmed nor denied that such a program exists. But, in his radio address, President Bush once again defended the NSA's practice of eavesdropping on conversations involving suspected terrorists at home and abroad.

"Americans expect their government to do everything in its power under our laws and Constitution to protect them and their civil liberties. That is exactly what we are doing," he said. "And so far, we have been successful in preventing another attack on our soil."

Mr. Bush said the intelligence activities he has authorized are lawful, and that Americans' privacy is "fiercely protected." A recent public opinion survey shows a majority of Americans approve of the government obtaining domestic telephone records to track down terrorists.

In the Democratic Party response to the president's radio address, a Florida lawmaker said a federal program championed by President Bush to help retirees afford prescription medication is confusing to many senior citizens.

State Senator Ron Klein urged an extension of the Monday deadline to sign up for the program, saying that numerous retirees need more time to sift through the enrollment details.

The Bush administration estimates the program will save senior citizens an average of more than $1,000 a year on prescription drugs. Klein, who is running for a seat in the U.S. Congress this year, described the program as a financial giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry.

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