WASHINGTON - Even before President Bush has named his choice to take over the CIA, the Air Force general who is the front-runner drew fire Sunday from lawmakers in the president’s own party who say a military man should not lead the civilian spy agency.
The criticism of the expected choice of Gen. Michael Hayden to head the CIA came from some influential Republicans in Congress as well as from Democrats.
“I do believe he’s the wrong person, the wrong place, at the wrong time,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich. “We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time.”
Hoekstra said on “Fox News Sunday” that having a general in charge of the CIA could create the impression among agents around the world that the agency is under Pentagon control. If he were to get the nomination, military officers would run all the major spy agencies, from the ultra-secret National Security Agency to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Hoekstra said “there’s ongoing tensions between this premiere civilian intelligence agency and the Department of Defense as we speak.”
The sentiment was echoed by Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who said Hayden’s military background would be a “major problem."
Talk of Hayden’s possible nomination has reignited the debate over the Bush’s administration’s domestic surveillance program, which Hayden used to oversee as the former head of the National Security Agency.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he would use a Hayden nomination to raise questions about the legality of the program and did not rule out holding it up until he gets answers. “I’m not going to draw any lines in the sand until I see how the facts evolve,” Specter said on Fox.
White House insiders tried to shrug off suggestions that Hayden’s military experience could become a serious issue. And they said they welcome a fight over the domestic eavesdropping program — an issue that Bush certainly has not shied away from taking on in his effort to take a tough stance against terrorists.