WASHINGTON -- President Bush's choice of Gen. Michael V. Hayden as the next CIA director drew bipartisan criticism yesterday, including from the Republican leader of the House Intelligence Committee, who said a military man should not run the intelligence agency.
Hayden, whose nomination Bush is expected to announce this morning, has served for more than 35 years in the Air Force, culminating as head of the National Security Agency and then as top deputy to John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, expressed concern that Hayden's military background could further diminish the CIA's role in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and enhance Pentagon influence over U.S. intelligence operations.
"This is one more step in the [Defense Department's] taking over the intelligence community," the Michigan Republican said in an interview.
Hoekstra acknowledged that entering into a "public spat" with the White House put him in "an unfortunate position."
"You kind of look at it and say, 'I can't go with you on this one,'" Hoekstra said. "In my gut, it just feels wrong."
His criticism was echoed by that from a fellow Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.
"The fact that [Hayden] is part of the military today would be a problem," Chambliss said on ABC's This Week. Chambliss sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which would conduct confirmation hearings on the Hayden nomination.
The strong criticism of Bush's selection of a replacement for CIA Director Porter J. Goss, who was forced to resign last week, signaled that Hayden's confirmation hearing could be contentious.
"Maybe after 36 hours of what I think is a pretty hostile response from the Congress, maybe they'll have another appointment," Hoekstra said.
But a government official confirmed that Bush intended to go ahead with the Hayden nomination and would vigorously defend his selection.
Hinting at the Bush administration's thinking on why Hayden should lead the CIA, the official noted the general's lifelong career in intelligence and his newer, high-profile role in promoting U.S. spying operations.
Not all of the reactions aired on the Sunday morning talk shows were negative toward Hayden.
On CBS' Face the Nation, Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and decorated Navy veteran, said Hayden "is really more of an intelligence person than he is an Air Force officer."
Rep. Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview that she was not sure whether Hayden's military background should disqualify him for the CIA post.
"The good news is, for once this isn't a totally partisan issue," Harman said.
She said her understanding is that the White House plans to nominate a new deputy CIA director who is not a military officer and has more experience in human spying operations than Hayden, whose background is in electronic intelligence. The current deputy is Vice Adm. Albert M. Calland III.
One possible choice whose name has been mentioned is Henry "Hank" Crumpton, who runs the State Department's counterterrorism division and orchestrated the CIA's Afghanistan operations after Sept. 11, 2001.
Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who heads the Senate intelligence panel, said Hayden might be able to win over skeptics by retiring from the military, but Chambliss and Hoekstra said that such a move would not matter.
"Just resigning a commission and moving on, putting on a striped suit, a pinstriped suit versus an Air Force uniform, I don't think that makes much difference," Chambliss said.
Six of the 19 CIA directors to date have been active military officers.
Hayden has clashed with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over the Defense Department's role in intelligence matters. In 2004, Rumsfeld called Hayden into his office and admonished him for publicly backing the idea of creating a national spy chief's office that would be outside the Defense Department's control.
"You've got a military guy who has already shown he could stand up to Don Rumsfeld," said one former top intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But Hoekstra said that now is not the time for a general to lead the CIA, adding that "current reform, current tensions, current operations" require civilian leadership of the agency. Nominating Hayden would create a debate that would be "a distraction from the work to be done" at the agency, Hoekstra said.
At his confirmation hearing, Hayden probably would face questioning over the NSA's domestic surveillance program, which he instituted in 2001 when he was director of the NSA.
Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Fox News Sunday that he would use Hayden's nomination as "leverage" to get the White House to release further details of the NSA program, which Hayden has aggressively defended.
Hayden's nomination "will give us an opportunity to try to find out about what the program is," Specter said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who serves on the intelligence panel and is among the few senators who have received briefings about the NSA program, said she is concerned about Hayden's previous role as head of the NSA.
"You could be sure that members have major questions about this program, particularly because the president and the administration chose not to use legal means" to get warrants for the wiretaps, she said.
Hayden's role in defending the NSA program could also raise questions, especially among Democrats who fear that the U.S. intelligence community is being politicized.
"It was inappropriate for him to go to the [National] Press Club and defend White House policy," Harman said, referring to a speech that Hayden gave in January. "If we send them a signal we're going to keep politicizing [the CIA] and using it as one of the support systems for White House policy, I think more of them will become disillusioned and quit."
Harman said the White House would try to use Hayden's nomination as an election-year wedge issue, by linking it to efforts to defend the nation against terrorism.
"There's a trap here," Harman said. "They're trying to embarrass those who vote no."
Opinion polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support domestic eavesdropping on terrorists, which is how Bush and Hayden have described the NSA program.