(HOST)The man President Bush has nominated to be the next director of the CIA, General Michael Hayden, is getting good notices from the intelligence community. But, as commentator Barrie Dunsmore tells us this morning, he does carry some political baggage.
(DUNSMORE) Four Star Air Force General Michael Hayden seems well qualified to become the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency. He began his career as an intelligence analyst with the Strategic Air Command. For thirty years he worked his way up the chain of command until 1999, when President Bill Clinton made him the head of the National Security Agency.
The NSA is the largest organization in the intelligence community, and Hayden ran it effectively for six years. Recently he has been the number two man under John Negroponte, the new National Intelligence Czar.
In the recent book, State of War by James Risen, we learn that Hayden got his NSA appointment about the same time as the movie “Enemy of the State” was released. The movie portrayed the NSA as an evil, rogue organization that used its cutting-edge technology to secretly trample the civil rights of Americans. Hayden was appalled by the movie and set about trying to burnish the NSA’s image. Under Hayden, an agency whose very existence was once a state secret began talking about itself and even started dealing with the news media.
Hayden gave speeches and talked to reporters; he even hosted off-the-record dinners for the press in his home. He went on television and promised that the NSA had learned its lesson from the dark days of the seventies, when the domestic abuses of the FBI, the CIA and the NSA were exposed. On CNN he said, “Could there be abuses? Of course there could. But I am looking you and the American people in the eye and saying there are not.”
But all that was before the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
It was Risen’s book and his reports in the New York Times that revealed the Bush Administration’s post-9/11 decision to use the NSA to conduct domestic surveillance of Americans. The administration calls this a terrorist surveillance program, although it involves monitoring the phone calls and e-mail of millions of innocent Americans. The White House claims the President has the “inherent authority,” as commander-in-chief, to by-pass the court set up to provide the warrants for such surveillance.
Opponents of the NSA eavesdropping program say that without such warrants it violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. This is an issue which continues to divide the Congress and one which crosses party lines, with some conservative Republicans among the program’s strongest critics.
I would hope that at his confirmation hearing some Senator will remind Hayden of something he also publicly promised back when he was selling the NSA. “We are very, very careful,” he said. “We don’t get close to the Fourth Amendment.” That statement would be true only if you believe the President has the “inherent authority” to ignore any law he finds inconvenient.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.