The White House shot back today against critics from both sides of the aisle who have labeled its pick to lead the CIA the "wrong man" for the job.
President Bush formally introduced Gen. Michael Hayden this morning as his choice to replace Porter Goss as the agency's director.
Democrats and several influential Republicans have said it would be unwise to have a military officer lead the civilian spy agency, but national security advisor Stephen Hadley rejected those complaints.
Hadley said there was "no reason" for Hayden to resign from the Air Force before taking charge of the CIA.
"I would point out there have been several heads of the Central Intelligence Agency who have been military officers. There are officers serving in that agency," Hadley told "Good Morning America."
"The question is not military versus civilian. The question is the best man for that job, and Mike Hayden really has that capacity. He's run a big organization. He knows how to transform a big organization. He's committed to the agenda of intelligence reform. And he's not just a military officer. He's had broad experience in the intelligence business."
Bush said Hayden is the best choice to lead the embattled CIA.
"Mike Hayden is supremely qualified for this position," he said in the Oval Office, with Hayden at his side. "He knows the intelligence community from the ground up."
Bush cited Hayden's experience as "both a provider and a consumer of intelligence."
"He's overseen the development of both human and technological intelligence," he said. "He has demonstrated an ability to adapt our intelligence services to the new challenges in the war on terror. He's the right man to lead the CIA at this critical moment in our nation's history.
Concern About a Military Leader for CIA
Several items on Hayden's resume have drawn lawmakers' attention since his name surfaced over the weekend as a potential replacement for Goss.
Hayden ran the National Security Agency from 1999 until last year. He has since spoken out in support of the NSA's controversial domestic spying program and has outlined a provocative plan to shift the CIA's focus from analyzing intelligence to hunting terrorists.
The biggest obstacle to his potential nomination may be his military uniform.
"This is a civilian agency," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told ABC News' "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" on Sunday.
"And it's meant to be a civilian agency. So, you know, he might think about resigning his commission if he's going to do this," said the senator, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee also said Sunday it would be unwise to put a general in charge now.
"He's the wrong person, the wrong place, at the wrong time," Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said on "Fox News Sunday." "We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time."
"The CIA was created to be an independent, analytical intelligence agency, and it can't be really independent if the person running it is responsible to the person running the Pentagon," said James Bamford, an intelligence expert and author of "A Pretext for War." "So he's got to resign his commission as a general in the U.S. Air Force," Bamford said.
Hayden will have to assume leadership of an agency that has been dealing with steadily declining morale.
"The CIA is demoralized," said Jamie Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general and general counsel to the Defense Department who served on the 9/11 Commission. "It has lost a great deal of talent, and the first thing for a new leader will be to really build up the esprit de corps and sense of mission and lead the place."
More than a year and a half ago, President Bush nominated then-Rep. Porter Goss to head the embattled agency and called him the right man for the job, but reports said that Goss was being forced out of the job. Hadley said today that Goss had indicated months ago that he wanted to leave his position.
Can Hayden Stand Up to the Military?
It may not be enough for Hayden to simply leave the Air Force, said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., a member of the Senate committee that must approve his nomination.
"Now, just resigning commission and moving on, putting on a striped suit -- a pinstriped suit versus an Air Force uniform -- I don't think makes much difference," Chambliss said on "This Week."
For Republicans and Democrats alike the issue is independence. After 37 years in uniform, can Hayden stand up to the Pentagon or, if necessary, his commander in chief?
"I am concerned that having someone with military background heading an agency that has a tradition as being a civilian agency may send the wrong signal," said Rep. Jane Harmon, D-Calif., a House Intelligence Committee member.
"A lot of our CIA employees in the field are already worried about what they call a DOD [Department of Defense] takeover."
The Pentagon, with nine of the government's 16 spy agencies, was the biggest opponent of efforts to revamp the nation's intelligence structure, and it still spars with the CIA for money and influence under the new national intelligence director.
"There is a power struggle going on between the Department of Defense and the entire rest of the intelligence community," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "So I don't see how you have a four-star general heading up the CIA."
Hadley said Hayden would not have a problem acting independently and in the best interest of the American people.
"Mike Hayden is a man of great integrity," he said.
"He had some very strong views, and when we did intelligence reform and he was very clear about them in terms of the Congress of the United States, what in his judgment was required to have an effective reform process. Secondly, he's stood up to the pressure within the National Security Agency of transforming that institution and dealing with the bureaucratic challenges."