President Bush's nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, Air Force General Michael Hayden, is expected to face a tough confirmation battle before the U.S. Senate.
President Bush Monday called on the U.S. Senate to swiftly act on his nominee to head the CIA, General Michael Hayden, who currently serves as deputy director of National Intelligence.
"Mike Hayden was unanimously confirmed by the Senate last year for his current post," said President Bush. "I call on the Senate to confirm him promptly as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency."
The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to hold confirmation hearings in the coming weeks before sending the nomination to the full Senate for a vote.
Republicans and Democrats alike on the panel already are expressing concerns about the nominee, offering a preview of the tough questioning Hayden is likely to face.
Some lawmakers are concerned about putting a military officer in charge of a civilian spy agency - saying it could give the Pentagon too much sway over U.S. intelligence gathering.
Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, a Republican on the Intelligence Committee, addressed the issue on ABC's This Week program Sunday, on the eve of Bush's announcement.
"I, too, have a little bit of concern, frankly, about military personnel running the CIA," said Saxby Chambliss. "It is a civilian agency. It operates differently from the way that the Defense Intelligence Agency operates."
The Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, acknowledges such concerns among panel members, but he stopped short of discussing his own stand on the nomination.
Roberts spoke on CNN's Late Edition.
"I'm not in a position to say that I am for General Hayden and will vote for him, so on and so forth," said Pat Roberts. "I like General Hayden. I think he's got a tremendous background in intelligence. He's done a great job with NSA - all of that, all of his credentials. But it will be up to the committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, to confirm him and it will be up to the members to ask these tough questions."
Hayden's boss, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, dismissed senators' concerns about a military officer leading a civilian spy agency during a White House news conference Monday:
"I would respond they should look at the qualifications, and I think they can also be assured that Mike Hayden is a very, very independent-minded person, blunt-spoken, who I do not think will have any difficulty whatsoever staking out positions that are independent and responsive to the needs of our civilian intelligence community," said John Negroponte.
Some senators on the Intelligence Committee also are concerned about the controversial National Security Agency surveillance program that Hayden once ran as head of that department.
Critics have questioned the legality of the program, which allows for warrantless eavesdropping on international phone calls and emails between people in the United States and suspected terrorists overseas. The initiative, set up after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, bypasses a special federal court whose approval is required under law for domestic wiretapping operations.
In a speech in Washington, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, raised the prospect that he may vote against Hayden, as he did with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' nomination, over the issue of the wiretap program.
"He [Hayden] stood with the President and others that somehow the President has inherent authority to do this," said Russ Feingold. "I did not vote for Attorney General Gonzales when he could not tell me the President was not above the law, and it would be very difficult for me if Mr. Hayden does not in some way indicate to me that he does not feel this way."
For his part, Hayden says he's prepared for the confirmation battle ahead:
"In the confirmation process, I look forward to meeting with the leaders of the Congress, better understanding their concerns and working with them to move the American intelligence community forward," said General Hayden. "This is simply too important not to get absolutely right."
If confirmed, Hayden would succeed Porter Goss, who resigned Friday after a stormy tenure marked by the departure of high level intelligence officers and reported tensions with Negroponte.