WASHINGTON—Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, a career intelligence officer under whose watch the government expanded its ability to track private telecommunications, won easy Senate confirmation Friday to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Senate voted 78-15 in his favor, a strong bipartisan show of support despite lingering questions over the legality of the warrantless wiretaps carried out by the National Security Agency, which Hayden headed.
Hayden, 61, will become the first member of the military to run the CIA since Adm. Stansfield Turner 25 years ago. He replaces Porter Goss, a former Florida congressman who resigned his CIA post earlier this month after a stormy tenure and clashes with National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, the nation's top intelligence official.
Senators praised Hayden as an experienced hand and independent leader who would provide the president with unvarnished intelligence assessments.
They also held out the hope that the intelligence community would be more forthcoming under Hayden and keep Congress better informed about its activities.
"He's made clear his interest in an open and honest relationship with Congress and his respect for our oversight role," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said.
For some senators, especially Democrats, a vote in favor of Hayden was especially difficult. The party's liberal wing has been especially critical of the NSA wiretapping program, which targeted phone calls between U.S. residents and suspected al-Qaida allies overseas. USA Today reported earlier this month that the NSA also kept records of millions of domestic calls, though it didn't listen in on them.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada offered an unusual 1,000-word statement explaining his support for Hayden and laying out the challenges facing the new director.
Reid called it "a travesty" that al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden remains at large. He said the CIA must lead efforts to understand the threats posed by Iran and North Korea. And he said Hayden should give the CIA "a global human intelligence capability" with a better understanding of cultures and languages.
"Based on everything I have seen, I am hopeful he is up to the task," Reid said. "And I am hopeful this administration will let him do the job for which it nominated him."
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who has quarreled with the administration over his inability to obtain information about the eavesdropping program, was the only Republican to vote against Hayden, who's a native of Pittsburgh.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Specter said he cast a no vote as a protest "against the administration's policy of not informing the Congress, with special emphasis on the Judiciary Committee, in a way which enables the Congress and the Judiciary Committee to do our constitutional job on oversight." Specter is the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.
At the CIA, Hayden will face a daunting challenge reviving an agency that has been demoralized by its failures, confrontations with the Bush White House and pressure to support administration policies.
The CIA's clandestine service, the spies who recruit agents, steal secrets and are crucial to penetrating "hard target" countries such as Iran and North Korea, also has been hard-hit by retirements and transfers. What's more, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who controls the bulk of the $40 billion-a-year intelligence budget, has rushed into the vacuum by secretly dispatching U.S. special operations forces on clandestine counterterrorism missions far beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.
"To avoid the catastrophic national security lapses of the past, General Hayden will need to bring unprecedented, independent leadership to the CIA to reclaim the resources and missions that are so essential to its role with in the intelligence community," said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Earlier this week, Specter and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced legislation that would require warrants for any NSA eavesdropping on U.S. soil. The legislation would streamline some procedures and extend the period for emergency warrantless surveillance from 72 hours to seven days. The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., supports less restrictive legislation.
By voice vote, the Senate also confirmed Rob Portman to be the new director of the Office of Management and Budget. Portman replaces Joshua Bolten, who's now White House chief of staff.
The Senate also confirmed a controversial Bush aide, Brett Kavanaugh, to a federal appellate judgeship and former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to be interior secretary.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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