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Bush Taps Hayden to Head CIA

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

We have an update now, on a story we've been following today. In the past few minutes, President Bush has announced his choice to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.

(Soundbite of Presidential Press Conference)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Today, I'm pleased to nominate General Mike Hayden as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Mike Hayden is supremely qualified for this position.

YDSTIE: If confirmed by the Senate, Gen. Hayden would replace Porter Goss, who resigned under pressure on Friday. Joining me now to talk about today's announcement is NPR's Intelligence Correspondent Mary Louise Kelly. Thanks for being here.

MARY LOUISE KELLY reporting:

Good morning, John.

YDSTIE: Gen. Hayden is a well-known figure in the intelligence community. Exactly why did President Bush reach out to him?

KELLY: Well, he is, as President Bush also said this morning, supremely qualified for the position. He was the longest serving director in the history of the National Security Agency; he's an Air Force general with a long history of military intelligence, so he knows the intelligence world very well. He knows Washington very well. He has management experience; he's run a huge intelligence agency before. And what he's doing right now is, of course, supremely relevant, he is the deputy director, the number two intelligence official in the country, right now - deputy to John Negroponte, the National Intelligence Director.

So he has strong relationships already with John Negroponte, with The Pentagon, and with President Bush. I think the president thought, this is someone I trust, someone I can work with. And we'll see what happens in the confirmation process. But he was very popular at the NSA, and I think they wanted someone who was going to be able to reach out to staff at the CIA.

YDSTIE: Despite those qualifications, though, even before today's announcement, both Republicans and Democrats have been critical of him.

KELLY: That's true. When we look ahead to what the confirmation hearings in the Senate may well look like, there appear to be two big hurdles emerging. One, is the fact that he is a serving - he's an Air Force four-star general; he's a military man, that's his background. And this comes at a time of immense concern in the intelligence community about The Pentagon trying to reach out and grab more and more and more power in the intelligence world. That is, of course, something that is of extreme concern to people watching at the CIA.

So this is one issue is, do we want a military man running the CIA at this particular point? The other thing is Gen. Hayden was running the NSA at the time when the controversial warrantless wiretapping program was launched; he oversaw it for a few years. He has emerged as probably the most forceful defender of that program since it became public last December. So there are a lot of unanswered about - unanswered questions about that program. It remains very controversial, and I think Senators will really use his confirmation hearing as an excuse to push and see if we can get some more answers on that.

YDSTIE: Of course, we should say that we have had people in the military heading the CIA before. Its' - that is not new.

KELLY: In fact, the majority of CIA directors - I learned just this morning, the majority of CIA directors have had military experience, and there have been serving - active military officers running the CIA before. It's always an issue, and they try to balance it - if you have a military man in the number one job, you try to do a civilian in the number two job to try to allay some of those concerns. So we may see that happening.

But yeah, it's not unprecedented. I think it's just this is a particularly sensitive time, given that Secretary Rumsfeld, over at The Pentagon, has made clear he has real ambitions for increasing the military role in intelligence.

YDSTIE: If he's confirmed, Gen. Hayden will take over an agency in transition and very low morale, at the CIA.

KELLY: That's true. And it'll be interesting to see, if he's confirmed, what exactly he does to try to raise morale at the CIA. I thought he did something that was politically astute just a few moments ago; when the president announced that Hayden would be the pick for this job, Hayden, in his very short speech, addressed the CIA staff directly and said, if I'm confirmed, I would be honored to work with you. He's already trying to reach out and bring CIA staffers on-board.

You know, it'll be interesting. At the CIA, certainly his intelligence experience, his management experience, will be very relevant, but he is not an expert on the Middle East, he is not an expert on terrorism. These are things that are going to be, obviously, at the top of his agenda if he lands the CIA job. And he will have to deal with all the suspicion that is fueled by his military background.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. Thanks very much. NPR Intelligence Correspondent Mary Louise Kelly.

KELLY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.

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