WASHINGTON -- The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence approved the nomination of Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden to be the next director of the CIA yesterday, clearing the way for him to win confirmation before the end of the week.
"We think he's an outstanding choice to head the CIA," said Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who heads the committee.
"Chances are excellent" that Hayden will be confirmed before the Senate goes home for its Memorial Day recess, Roberts said.
Roberts and others are eager to see Hayden installed before the end of the month, when current CIA Director Porter J. Goss plans to leave the agency. Goss resigned this month, after less than two years in the job, and leaves behind a spy shop still struggling to right itself after the failures associated with the Sept. 11 attacks and the lead-up to the war in Iraq.
Senate Democrats Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Evan Bayh of Indiana voted against Hayden, saying that his involvement in the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program and his answers to their questions about it at last week's committee hearing left them no choice but to oppose him.
"I am not convinced that the nominee respects the rule of law and Congress' oversight responsibilities," Feingold said in a statement. As director of the National Security Agency, he said, Hayden "directed an illegal program."
Hayden, 61, led the NSA for six years before becoming deputy director of national intelligence a year ago. While the agency had difficulties with its efforts to overhaul its technological systems during his tenure - The Sun reported in January that a data-sifting program known as Trailblazer failed to materialize despite a $1.2 billion budget - nearly all of the criticism of his nomination has focused on the warrantless surveillance program.
"Our country needs a CIA director who is committed to fighting terrorism aggressively without breaking the law or infringing on the rights of Americans," Feingold said. "General Hayden's role in implementing and publicly defending the warrantless surveillance program does not give me confidence that he is capable of fulfilling this important responsibility."
Bayh said in a statement that his vote was not based on Hayden's qualifications, but was a protest against the Bush administration's refusal to abide by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which set up a secret court to approve warrants for the types of spying done by the NSA.
"My vote was an objection to the administration's unwillingness to ensure both our physical security and our civil liberties," Bayh said. "We should not be forced to choose."
Bayh and Feingold are considering runs for the presidency in 2008.
Other Democrats, and the Republicans on the panel, were more positive about Hayden. They said their initial concerns about Hayden's ability to stand up to the Pentagon and the president had largely been allayed by his testimony during hearings last week.
Hayden is a four-star Air Force general; the CIA is a civilian agency, though it has had military men at the helm before.
"I had questions originally about his military background, but I believe he will be independent and maintain the independence of the Central Intelligence Agency," said Sen. Christopher S. Bond, a Missouri Republican.
"We saw significant evidence of independence and objectivity in General Hayden," said Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat.
Some Democrats warned, however, that their support for Hayden did not mean that they would stop pressing the Bush administration for more details about the NSA programs. They said they still have serious questions about the agency's surveillance activities and that they plan to watch Hayden's tenure at the CIA closely.
"My confidence in General Hayden should not be interpreted as confidence in this administration," Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said in a statement. "I have flashing yellow lights about the Bush administration's willingness to politicize this important intelligence agency. I am also concerned that this administration sometimes pays lip service to the law of the land, as we have seen with recent revelations about the warrantless surveillance program."