Bush set to nominate general to lead CIA

 

The idea of a military man heading a civilian agency is raising hackles, writes Denis Staunton in Washington.

President Bush is today expected to nominate Gen Michael Hayden to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, triggering a battle with Congress over the agency's future.

A former director of the National Security Agency, Gen Hayden will face questions about that agency's surveillance of US citizens without a warrant, which some congressmen believe is illegal. The nomination would also fuel fears within the CIA that defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld is determined to downgrade the agency as he builds up military intelligence.

The top Republican on the House of Representatives intelligence committee, Michigan's Peter Hoekstra, said yesterday it would be a mistake to appoint a uniformed military officer to head the civilian agency.

"I think putting a general in charge, regardless of how good Mike is, putting a general in charge is going to send the wrong signal to the agency here in Washington but also to our agents in the field around the world. The bottom line: I do believe he is the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time," he told Fox News yesterday.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said she had serious misgivings about Gen Hayden's appointment and predicted that his confirmation hearings would reopen the controversy over NSA domestic surveillance.

An air force officer, Gen Hayden spent much of his career in Europe, in Bulgaria during the Cold War and as an intelligence chief in the US European Command during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. As NSA director, he developed a reputation for openness and affability, even inviting journalists to his house for briefings - an unprecedented move for a head of America's largest and most secretive intelligence agency.

Currently deputy to national intelligence director John Negreponte, the general favours a narrower role for the CIA that would see the agency shift its focus towards intelligence gathering and away from providing analysis to policymakers.

If he is nominated and confirmed as CIA chief, Gen Hayden will inherit an agency in disarray, demoralised by criticism of its role in providing faulty intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war and by revelations about its network of secret prisons in Europe and elsewhere.

Outgoing director Porter Goss, who resigned unexpectedly last Friday, clashed with many senior figures at the agency and his brief tenure saw many top analysts leave. Mr Goss refused to be drawn at the weekend about the reason for his departure, describing it as "just one of those mysteries".

Washington is thick with rumours that Mr Goss's resignation was linked to an inquiry into CIA executive director Kyle Foggo, who has admitted attending poker parties paid for by military contractors accused of bribing a former Republican congressman. The congressman, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, was sentenced to eight years in prison in March for taking $2.4 million in bribes from contractors seeking government military and intelligence contracts.

Federal investigators are looking into claims that the contractors paid for limousines, poker parties and prostitutes for officials at the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security.

Mr Foggo, who was brought into the CIA by Mr Goss as its third-ranking official, is a friend of one of the contractors accused of bribing Mr Cunningham. Mr Foggo says the poker parties were no more than a gathering of friends and that he did nothing wrong. Mr Goss is not under investigation but his association with Mr Foggo may have provided an opportunity for rivals within the intelligence structure to persuade Mr Bush to sack him.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony at Ohio's Tiffin University on Saturday, Mr Goss took a light-hearted approach.

"If this were a graduating class of CIA case officers, my advice would be short and to the point: admit nothing, deny everything and make counter-accusations. Clearly, that doesn't translate well beyond the world of the clandestine service, so I have some other thoughts I'd like to offer," he said.