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The nomination of General Michael Hayden to succeed Porter Goss as CIA Director generated some surprising opposition today by an influential Republican Congressman. Peter Hoekstra, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and a reliable supporter of the war on terror, objects to military leadership at the CIA:
A leading Republican came out against the front-runner for CIA director, Gen. Michael Hayden, saying Sunday the spy agency should not have military leadership during a turbulent time among intelligence agencies. ...
Despite a distinguished career at the Defense Department, Hayden would be "the wrong person, the wrong place at the wrong time," said the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich.
"There is ongoing tensions between this premier civilian intelligence agency and DOD as we speak," Hoekstra said. "And I think putting a general in charge — regardless of how good Mike is — ... is going to send the wrong signal through the agency here in Washington but also to our agents in the field around the world," he told "Fox News Sunday."
If Hayden were to get the nomination, military officers would run the major spy agencies in the United States, from the ultra-secret National Security Agency to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Hoekstra was not the only Republican to publicly question Hayden's selection as Goss' replacement. Saxby Chambliss, who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also worries that placing the civilian intelligence agency under the control of a military commander may send a disconcerting message to the organization. They were joined by Dianne Feinstein, who also underscored the intent of having the intelligence agency outside of the control of the military. Joe Biden, who does not have a seat on the SSCI but does join Arlen Specter on Judiciary, also expressed concern that the Pentagon would "gobble up" CIA with Hayden in charge.
One has to wonder why the administration did not consult with Hoekstra and Chambliss before sending out their test balloons on Hayden. The White House knew his confirmation would present difficulties even without having key Republicans in opposition to his appointment. With legislators like Hoekstra and Chambliss publicly objecting to Hayden's nomination, the White House faces yet another botched appointment process. How hard was it to pick up the phone and make a few calls, especially to the GOP members of the committee that would conduct the confirmation hearings?
On the other hand, the concern expressed by Hoekstra and Chambliss is reasonable enough to allow the White House to withdraw Hayden -- if they choose to do so -- without acknowledging any retreat on the NSA surveillance program. The concern over military overreach is an overreaction, especially given John Negroponte's efforts to wrest budgetary control over intelligence from Donald Rumsfeld, but still a legitimate issue for independence in the intelligence community. It allows Republicans to voice their opposition to Hayden while protecting Hayden's NSA project as much as possible.
These two are not on par with Lincoln Chaffee, Arlen Specter, and Olympia Snowe. Hoekstra and Chambliss represent the core of the party in regard to war policy and support. With these defections, I expect the White House to name another candidate by tomorrow morning, probably Mary Margaret Graham or Frances Townsend. Neither will be as good as Hayden, but both will cause little disruption for confirmation.
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