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Civilians, Soldiers and the Central Intelligence Agency

President Bush's nomination of a four-star Air Force general to head the Central Intelligence Agency has sparked bipartisan concern in Congress about military control of this civilian agency. As VOA's Peter Fedynsky reports, the controversy involves conflicting views of securing American liberty.

Few people dispute General Michael Hayden's credentials as an intelligence expert. He has more than 20 years of experience, including six as director of the National Security Agency, which specializes in technical espionage under military guidance. The CIA is a civilian agency primarily involved in human intelligence. While it has had several military directors, critic’s say now is not the time for another one.

Congressman Pete Hoekstra is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "There's been a lot of tension between the CIA,[and] the Defense Department, and I think putting a career military person now in charge of the CIA is sending the signal that says DoD has won on this -- intelligence is a Department of Defense operation.

The CIA is designed to inform the nation's civilian leaders, while defense intelligence agencies primarily serve the military.

According to Christopher Preble, civil-military affairs expert at the Cato Institute think tank in Washington, DC, the various agencies are not subject to the same controls. "I think there is some concern that there is greater and greater intelligence activity being conducted that is perhaps not subject to the same kind of Congressional oversight that we have subjected the CIA to for some time."

Preble says tensions between America's civilian and military spheres are traditionally mild, but have existed since the country's founding more than two centuries ago. He says those tensions stem from the conflicting demands of liberty and security, especially in time of war.

Currently, the United States is engaged in the War Against Terror. Part of that struggle is a controversial Bush administration program to conduct domestic surveillance of suspected terrorists without a court order. Critics say warrantless searches violate the Constitution.

However, General Hayden has defended the program, which Cato's Christopher Preble says is one of the reasons he is facing opposition in Congress. "Clearly, it was something that he was very, very actively involved with, it appears, from the inception; what little we know about the program, he was involved from the very beginning. So it may be that the objections are mainly about him and not so much about a military person."

The New York Times newspaper uncovered the domestic surveillance program in December.

Stephen Hess, a historian at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, DC, says the controversy would have been defused had President Bush asked Congress to amend the surveillance law. "Had he done that, I'm sure the Congress -- who also feels that we're at war -- would have given him the right. So it looks like a power grab that I think a lot of people in the United States at the moment feel was really quite unnecessary."

If the Senate approves General Hayden's CIA nomination, he would report to the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, a civilian. Negroponte supports the general, who served as his deputy, and calls the domestic surveillance program a necessary tool against terror.