U.S. Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden’s chances of winning Senate confirmation to head the CIA depend on how he explains his involvement in eavesdropping and data collection programs, two key senators said on Sunday.
President George W. Bush’s nominee for CIA director can expect tough questions this week about his role in the administration’s controversial domestic spying program while he was head of the National Security Agency.
“There’s no question that his confirmation is going to depend upon the answers he gives regarding activities of NSA,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee whom Hayden will face on Thursday.
Hagel, who has expressed support for the nomination, said Hayden’s involvement in the NSA’s eavesdropping and telephone records collection programs was still unclear.
“One of the questions I want to ask is: who set that policy?” Hagel said on the ABC News program, “This Week.”
The NSA, which Hayden headed from 1999 to 2005, began intercepting telephone calls and e-mails without warrants between people in the United States and other countries after the September 11 attacks. It also inadvertently intercepted some domestic traffic, The New York Times reported last year.
Hagel also cited Sunday’s New York Times, which reported that Hayden argued for limits on a program for warrantless eavesdropping on domestic telephone calls and e-mails that was being pushed by Vice President Dick Cheney in the weeks following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
“It was General Hayden who insisted on constitutional protections, working within the framework of the law, according to the story,” Hagel said.
Appearing on the same program, Sen. Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, said while he was inclined to support the nomination, Hayden must give a full accounting of his involvement in setting up domestic spying programs.
“If he comes up to the appropriate committee, the Intelligence Committee, and does not respond, then it will make it very, very difficult,” said Biden, who is not on the intelligence panel but is influential on national security and foreign policy matters.
USA Today last week said the NSA had obtained records from three major telephone companies, AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp to amass a database on tens of millions of domestic calls in an effort to uncover terrorist activities.
Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said on CNN’s “Late Edition” that he was comfortable with the program, and was “absolutely, 100 percent sure” it had protected and saved American lives.
The report intensified the focus on Hayden, whose nomination is already under heavy scrutiny because of concerns about an active-duty military officer heading the civilian spy agency.
Bush used his weekly radio address on Saturday to praise Hayden and to urge the Senate to move quickly to approve his nomination. Hayden would replace Porter Goss, who resigned as Central Intelligence Agency director under pressure last week.
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