CIA Front-Runner: Wrong Man, Wrong Time?

ByABC News
May 7, 2006, 6:02 PM

May 7, 2006 — -- Gen. Michael Hayden has yet to be nominated, but already lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are raising concerns about President Bush's leading candidate to be the next CIA director.

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. But the biggest obstacle to his potential nomination may be something else -- his military uniform.

"This is a civilian agency," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "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," the senator, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told ABC News' "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."

In its 60-year history, the CIA has been run by a half dozen military men -- three while still on active duty -- but the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says it would be unwise to put a general in change 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."

Moreover, 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."

It may not be enough for Hayden to leave the Air Force, says Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., a member of the Senate committee 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."

Can Hayden Stand Up to the Military?

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 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.