WASHINGTON - President Bush on Monday chose Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to lead the embattled CIA, re-igniting a debate over the domestic surveillance program that the one-time head of the National Security Agency once ran.
Republican and Democratic critics also questioned the wisdom of putting a military officer in charge of the civilian spy agency.
"Mike Hayden is supremely qualified for this position," Bush said in the Oval Office, with Hayden at his side. Without mentioning Hayden's critics or their objections, the president said: "He knows the intelligence community from the ground up."
If confirmed, Hayden would replace Porter Goss, who resigned under pressure Friday.
He said that Hayden "has been a provider and consumer of intelligence."
To balance the CIA between military and civilian leadership, the White House plans to move aside the agency's No. 2 official, Vice Admiral Albert Calland III, who took over as deputy director less than a year ago, two senior administration officials said. Other personnel changes also are likely, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the changes are not ready to announce.
Talk of Hayden's nomination rekindled debate over the administration's domestic surveillance program, which Hayden used to oversee as the former head of the National Security Agency.
"There's probably no post more important in preserving our security and our values as people than the CIA," Hayden said.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she has found Hayden to be "straightforward and willing to share his candid professional judgments - even when they differed" from those of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"Nevertheless, to send a signal of independence from the Pentagon, General Hayden may want to consider retiring from the Air Force," she said. "That would put to rest questions about whether an active duty military officer should lead the CIA at this time."
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., had said in advance of the announcement that he would use a Hayden nomination to raise questions about the legality of the domestic surveillance program and did not rule out holding it up until he gets answers. "I'm not going to draw any lines in the sand until I see how the facts evolve," Specter said on Fox.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he was concerned that Hayden's nomination would detract from the real issue of intelligence reform.
"The debate in the Senate may end up being about the terrorist surveillance program and not about the future of the CIA or the intelligence community, which is exactly where the debate needs to be," Hoekstra said on CBS' "The Early Show."
"This is about whether we still have alignment and agreement between the executive branch and Congress as to where intelligence reform needs to go," he said.
Hoekstra's sentiment was echoed by Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who said that Hayden's military background would be a "major problem," and several Democrats who made the rounds of the Sunday television talk shows. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said Hayden could leave agents with the impression that the CIA has been "just gobbled up by the Defense Department."
Bush noted that Hayden was unanimously approved by the Senate for his current job - the nation's No. 2 intelligence official.
National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, who oversees the CIA and 15 other intelligence agencies, dismissed concerns about having an active military officer take over the civilian spy agency.
"Mike has both the breadth and depth of qualifications that are required for the position," Negroponte said. He called Hayden "a very, very independent-minded person, blunt spoken, who I don't think will have any difficulty whatsoever staking out positions that are independent and responsive to the needs of our civilian intelligence community."
Bracing for a tough nomination fight, the White House took the unusual step of pre-empting Bush's announcement with a defensive media blitz. "We think the issue is getting the best man for the job and the president has determined that Mike Hayden is the best man for the job," Hadley told The Associated Press. He also appeared on morning news shows before Bush formally announced his nomination of Hayden.
"He'll be reporting to the president of the United States, not Don Rumsfeld," the secretary of defense, Hadley said, adding that other military officers have led the CIA, Hadley said. "So the precedents are clear."
White House counselor Dan Bartlett said Hayden would be the fifth CIA chief in uniform. "He has been viewed as a non-comformist and an independent thinker," Bartlett said.
Hadley said that any nominee to lead the CIA would face questions about the controversial domestic surveillance program by the National Security Agency and that Hayden, the former director of the agency, was the best man to answer those questions.
If Hayden were confirmed, military officers would run all the major spy agencies, from the ultra-secret National Security Agency to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Some lawmakers, like Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, suggested that Hayden might think about resigning his military post if he were going to head the CIA. But Hoekstra and Chambliss were among those who said that wouldn't solve the problem.
"Just resigning commission and moving on, putting on a striped suit, a pinstriped suit versus an Air Force uniform, I don't think makes much difference," Chambliss said on ABC's "This Week."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., defended Hayden.
"In all due respect to my colleagues - and I obviously respect their views - General Hayden is really more of an intelligence person than he is an Air Force officer," McCain said on "Face the Nation" on CBS. "I think that we should also remember that there had been other former military people who have been directors of the CIA."
John Lehman, head of the Sept. 11 investigative commission, told CNN: "Mike Hayden is one of the best military intelligence officers we've ever had."