The confirmation hearing for General Hayden as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) offered a lot of food for thought—all six hours of it. I was disappointed in the quality of questions from many of our elected leaders, but I guess that just indicates the degree to which partisan politics outweigh substance in Washington. Without doing a blow by blow, or referring back to the transcripts as a crib sheet, I offer the following impressions:
Hayden opened with a statement of appreciation to the workforce of his former agency, the National Security Agency. Wow! This was a powerful demonstration that the boss is supportive of his troops, in good and in difficult times, even when he no longer is their boss. This message will not be lost on the folks at CIA.
Hayden did not wobble on his pro-reform message. He did it in an in-your-face way by praising the work and person of the out-going director, Porter Goss. He basically said that he (Hayden) will continue on the same reform path that Goss paved. Let’s be specific here: He will not back away from integrating the CIA into the Intelligence Community (IC). Operations (now call National Collection Service-NCS) will not reign supreme. Analysts will share.
Hayden was very respectful and engaging during the confirmation hearing. In the many questions about his role in the domestic surveillance program, he explained what and when he did and why he did it. When he ran up against secrecy requirements, he pledged to answer the questions in closed session. When our elected representatives got a bit hostile, Hayden showed his backbone, staying his ground, ultimately telling them that they would have to judge his character. That was a nuclear strike as far as I was concerned. Here is a guy who has devoted his entire life to serving his country, made the rank of general, under hostile questions when the nation is at war, played the big card of ‘look at me and my past—do you think I’d be sitting in this chair today, with the full confidence of the DNI and the President, if I did not have the character to serve?!’
This is where I think our representatives failed in their questioning. We only got a glimpse of Hayden’s vision. But I must admit that I like what I heard.
Hayden said he wants to get the CIA back to work and out of the news. As a leader, he will provide head coverage so that the workforce can take the risks they need to do their job. He said it is time to end the “archaeology” of examining past failures and successes. When he said that, I immediately flashed back to George Tenet’s confirmation hearing as DCI. It sounded good then, just as it sounds good now. There is only one problem with this. Until the CIA figures out what it is doing wrong and why, it will not be able to fix it. There is no lessons learned process at Langley. Furthermore, until the CIA rebuilds its public credibility and public trust, it will not be out of the news. Hayden will need a big success to turn the public debate around. Again, remembering the Tenet years, he had a huge success right away, the apprehension of the guy that killed the CIA officers on Langley’s front door step.
Hayden did not support breaking up the CIA. Good. He seemed open to the idea of a new super secret organization for non-traditional human collection, but also seemed to want to make the current structure work first.
Hayden pledged to work closely with the oversight committees. All directors do this. What I found more interesting was Roberts little tantrum about how the oversight committee handled the limited briefing on the wireless tapping op by NSA. He did not like the flak he was getting from the Democrats on the committee that were not included in the initial briefings. He insisted that he was knowledgeable, asking all the right questions and that oversight was in great shape.
The lady doeth protest too much. Oversight is broken, has always been broken and will likely always be broken. The model is wrong. The whole wiretap problem is an example of Congress not doing its job. The President was correct that we need to be able to look inside the US for threats. Congress’ job is to create the legislative framework to keep the nation safe and protect civil liberties. Congress needs to fix FISA so that this and other domestic intelligence collection operations can function under judicial review.
For those who thought it would be a hard confirmation, you were wrong. The politics involved guaranteed quick confirmation. The mid-term elections are rapidly approaching. No one wants to look soft on national security right now. Delaying the confirmation would look bad. Hayden was an excellent choice given his credentials. Now he just has to prove that he can do the job.
General Hayden, we are all watching you and good luck!