NSA reported ready to tap Air Force general; Candidate for director has long experience as an intelligence officer


The National Security Agency's director, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minihan, will leave his post March 15, ending a three-year tour highlighted by substantial changes in how one of Maryland's largest employers hires, promotes and retires its workers.

The leading candidate to succeed Minihan is another Air Force general, Maj. Gen. Michael Hayden, the deputy chief of staff for the United Nations Command in Korea and a longtime intelligence officer.

NSA, which has headquarters in Anne Arundel County, declined to confirm Hayden's selection, but Pentagon sources and congressional staffers said Hayden will be named to the post when he is promoted from a two-star to a three-star general. The Senate Armed Forces Committee is scheduled to take up his promotion soon.

President Clinton would then forward Hayden's name to the full Senate for confirmation.

Hayden, 52, is a 32-year Air Force veteran who has served in posts around the world and at the top levels of the Pentagon. His service record resembles Minihan's. Both men entered the military through the ROTC program, and both served as commanders of the Air Force's spying machine, the Air Intelligence Agency, an affiliate of NSA.

In recent years, Hayden has become more diplomat than spy. As the top U.N. official in Korea, he has led negotiations between North and South Korean delegations on conflicts between the two countries.

That experience could serve him well at NSA, where budget battles and employment disputes have become complicated.

Since 1996, NSA has been under orders from Congress to trim its work force -- estimated to be about 20,000, though the exact number is confidential -- by 18 percent. That led to the creation of early-retirement programs, such as "soft landings," which finds older employees jobs with private-sector corporations that perform contract work for NSA.

Some observers say cutting its work force does not come naturally to the agency, which has enjoyed unrestricted federal funding for much of its recent history.

"Historically they've been involved in upsizing, not downsizing," said Jeffrey Richelson, an intelligence expert with the National Security Archives.

Downsizing conflicts with NSA's efforts to create a more diversified work force. The Pentagon has ordered NSA to increase the number of minorities and women that it hires and promotes.

Observers say Minihan has made headway. As of January, women made up 40 percent of the work force, and minorities 13.22 percent, according to the agency. Five years ago, women made up 36 percent of the work force and minorities 11 percent, according to the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, which criticized NSA in 1996 for its poor record of hiring and promoting women and minorities.

In the past two years, slightly more than half of all promotions went to women.

"I think Minihan has done a pretty good job overall," said Emile Henault Jr., a former NSA worker and now a lawyer in Glen Burnie who represents NSA employees. "He's put more women in higher spots than anyone so far."

Still, the agency has fallen short of its goal of making one in three hires a minority. Employees often contend that they are being discriminated against at the agency. An average of 43 complaints a year have been filed with the agency's Equal Employment Opportunity office, and a handful of minority employees has sued the agency and Minihan in recent years.

Another top candidate to replace Minihan is a woman -- Lt. Gen. Claudia M. Kennedy, the Army's deputy chief of staff for intelligence and the first female three-star general. Kennedy would have become NSA's first female director, but she is said to be in line to become director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, a sister agency to NSA and the CIA.

Typically, the top NSA job rotates among the Air Force, Army and Navy. It's unclear why the Air Force would take the helm twice in a row. NSA directors normally serve three- or four-year terms.

NSA spokeswoman Judith Emmel said she did not know what Minihan, a native of Pampa, Texas, would do after he leaves the agency. In recent years, top agency officials have found employment with private-sector companies affiliated with NSA and the CIA.

Pub Date: 2/19/99

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