The U.S. Senate has confirmed General Michael Hayden as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, despite concerns about a surveillance program he led while head of another agency.
The Senate action was immediately praised by President Bush, who called General Hayden a patriot, saying his broad experience, dedication and expertise make him the right person to lead the CIA.
Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which approved the nomination earlier this week, had similar comments about Hayden during floor debate.
"He is eminently qualified for this position," said Mr. Roberts. "He is a distinguished public servant, as has been noted, who has given more than 35 years of service to his country."
Hayden is a four star general who last served as deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.
He was confirmed on a 78-15 vote, despite concerns about a National Security Agency surveillance program he led between 1999 and 2005. Critics, including Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, have questioned the legality of the program.
"Information has come to light that has raised serious questions about whether the general is the right person to lead the CIA: serious questions about whether the general will continue to be an administration cheerleader, serious questions about his credibility, serious questions about his understanding of and respect for constitutional checks and balances, and the important accountability in government that they create," he said.
The controversial program, which the Bush administration maintains is legal and a necessary tool in the fight against terrorism, monitors phone calls between people in the United States and suspected terrorists overseas. It bypasses a special federal court that had been set up to approve domestic wiretapping operations.
During his confirmation hearings, Hayden sought to assure lawmakers who were concerned about a military general leading a civilian spy agency that he would be independent of the Pentagon.
He also vowed to improve morale at the CIA, shaken by intelligence failures leading up to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, and the run up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Hayden succeeds Porter Goss, whose year-and-a-half tenure at the CIA was marked by the departure of several senior intelligence officers.