TOPICS > Politics

Gen. Hayden Defends NSA Surveillance Program at CIA Nomination Hearings

May 18, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Analysis of the day’s testimony now from David Ignatius, foreign affairs columnist, former foreign correspondent for the Washington Post. He’s written widely on intelligence issues.

And Mark Lowenthal, former government intelligence professional, he also was on the House Intelligence Committee staff when the outgoing CIA chief, Porter Goss, was a member.

David Ignatius, what, in your opinion, was the most important thing we’ve learned about Michael Hayden today?

DAVID IGNATIUS, The Washington Post: Well, you know, I think we saw that he’s a straightforward guy from Pittsburgh. He gave a good account of himself. I think that he really tried to balance his answers.

On the one hand, he was talking about the change at CIA, more risk-taking, forward-leaning, not back on its heels. On the other hand, he was talking I think, in part, to CIA officers saying: We’ll try to keep CIA central in the intelligence process. There is great fear out in Langley that they’re going to be left behind.

I think that he was careful in his answers. I think what I saw in these hearings was a careful man. And you can see how he rose up in the military ranks; you can see how he had all of the jobs that he did.

The concern I have is that he may have too much of that bureaucratic caution in trying to, you know, be all things to all people. And in intelligence, you may end up layering, overlapping functions. That’s some of what we’re seeing now, and I didn’t hear answers that convinced me that that’s not going to be a problem going forward.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Lowenthal?

MARK LOWENTHAL, Former Assistant Director, Central Intelligence for Analysis and Production: I think the main thing he accomplished that he allowed the public to see who he was. I mean, the CIA, as General Hayden, noted has been in the news a lot.

It probably has a certain unsettling aspect to Americans. They wonder, you know, is anyone in charge out there? You’re ditching directors, and you have all of this turmoil.

And I think people got a chance to see Mike Hayden, that he’s calm, he’s thoughtful, he has an idea of where he wants to go, that, you know, the agency will be in good hands. And I think that was probably a very important message.

The members know him. They’ve seen him on — Senator Roberts said, you know, 13 briefings just on the program, but I think getting his persona out to the public, and, as David says, to the workforce — some of whom do know him — was really very important. And I think he did very well at it.

CIA's reaction to Gen. Hayden

JIM LEHRER: What do you think the workforce's reaction's going to be? In other words, the workforce meaning people who now work for the CIA?

MARK LOWENTHAL: Well, I think they're probably hoping for the best. I mean, when you have directors spin over as often as you have in any agency, not just the CIA, it's very unsettling.

You may be down on the lower levels, but it affects the building. It affects the nature and the tenure of the building, and it's unsettling.

I think he said a lot of right things. I think, you know, the fact that they've basically said they're going to bring Steve Kappas back as the deputy...

JIM LEHRER: Tell people who Steve Kappas is.

MARK LOWENTHAL: Steve Kappas was a career clandestine service officer. He became the deputy director operations. He was in charge of clandestine service towards the end of George Tenet's tenure. And then, four months later, he quit, because he refused to carry out an order from Director Goss's chief of staff to fire his, Steve's deputy.

This obviously didn't have a good effect on the relationships between Mr. Goss and the rest of the building. And I think, you know, it was a signal from Ambassador Negroponte and Mike Hayden that we respect you, we respect your traditions, we value you, and that we're going to take care of that part of the business that we don't know that well, the clandestine service.

So I think that was a good signal. And I think some of the other things he said about analysis, which has always been my main concern, were very positive.

Creating a smoother trajectory

Mark Lowenthal
Former Intelligence Officer
There was this feeling in the administration in 2004 that somehow the CIA was at war with them, and some people have wondered whether or not Porter Goss was given orders to, you know, get them back in control.

JIM LEHRER: What did you -- you know many -- you've written even novels about the CIA. You know many people within the CIA, past and present, David. What would you add to what Mr. Lowenthal just said, about how this -- you're watching him and thinking through the eyes and ears of a CIA person?

DAVID IGNATIUS: You know, my guess would be that they're reassured that somebody who has the confidence of John Negroponte, who's now the big boss, runs the intelligence community, has been put in charge of their shop. They're reassured that proposals to break up CIA, really to take away the analytical function that Mark was talking about, and put it under Negroponte in this new office of the director of national intelligence...

JIM LEHRER: He said forget that. He said that isn't going to happen, pretty much?

DAVID IGNATIUS: Then he said he doesn't want to do that. You know, I have to be honest, that worries me a little bit, because we've got so many competing analysis shops that have been set up now, and I think that is going to have to be straightened out.

I think the main thing that people at CIA will feel is that a period in which they really did feel a very political leadership had been brought over, a Republican former congressman, his former congressional staffers, who came into CIA and really began what was seen as a kind of purge of people that they didn't trust, they thought was leakers, they thought obstructed the administration. Now, that period is over.

And symbolically, the key figure who was running the clandestine service, the fellow that Mark mentioned, Steve Kappas, has been brought back. It's as if they're turning back the clock at the moment at which this very bad period began. So I think there will be relief that we're going to, you know, now go on a smoother trajectory.

JIM LEHRER: But the other side of the coin here, Mr. Lowenthal, is that whatever anybody thinks about Porter Goss, he was brought over there to reform the CIA, and maybe he did it poorly or well or whatever. Does this mean that the CIA is going to go back to whatever it was before? And those who are concerned about that, what should they take from what Michael Hayden said?

MARK LOWENTHAL: Well, a lot of the -- I think there were two messages that Porter Goss was given by the administration. One I'm certain about, and one I'm guessing.

The certain one was he was told: Increase analytical capacity, increase the clandestine service by 50 percent, and that's going to go on. Mike Hayden talked about that. It began when George Tenet was director, and we're making up for 10 years of budget crashes. So the major thing is you have these interesting gaps in your personnel forms.

I think, you know, there was this feeling in the administration in 2004 that somehow the CIA was at war with them, and some people have wondered whether or not Porter Goss was given orders to, you know, get them back in control.

I don't think the agency was ever at war with the administration. I think that that was a misperception, but I think that may have been one of the messages he was given.

Will Hayden improve the CIA?

David Ignatius
The Washington Post
I think a very powerful part of his [Hayden's] message was that he wants to take this agency out of politics, so that it won't be a political football in quite the same way.

JIM LEHRER: Did you hear from Michael Hayden anything that made you believe that he knows what needs to be fixed at the CIA now?

MARK LOWENTHAL: I think he indicated some of the things. And he had a long discussion about how analysis has to change to do a better job.

It has to be more transparent. In other words, you have to lay out what General Powell called what you know and what you don't know. He said, at the same time, if you do that, the policymaker has to learn to live with ambiguity, which tends to make them a little edgy, but that's the nature of intelligence.

And he also talked about you have to have room for descents. So that when...

JIM LEHRER: Is that important? That's important?

MARK LOWENTHAL: It's very important. As David said, we have a lot of agencies that do analysis. Now, we do this on purpose. There's actually an intellectual premise here that, by having competing analysts, you'll get closer to what's gone on, so you don't have groupthink. Remember the groupthink problem in Iraq.

So we have long had competing analyses. But if you're going to have competition, then you can't just have a winning view. You have to have people see what was the lesser view.

JIM LEHRER: So you have to tell the consumer -- let's say, the president of the United States -- here is the entire file. We had seven analyses, and four of them say this, and three of them say that. And is that a helpful thing, David?

DAVID IGNATIUS: You know, it is helpful to have competition, differing views to reflect those in the analytical process, John Negroponte's deputy is running analysis -- his name is Tom Finger -- is really working to coordinate all of the 16 intelligence agencies that are under the DNI structure and use all of the analytical capabilities.

I just would add one thing, in terms of how people at CIA, but also how the country should respond to what Mike Hayden said. I think a very powerful part of his message was that he wants to take this agency out of politics, so that it won't be a political football in quite the same way.

And I think that the fact that he's a military officer, that you saw him in uniform, he's saying in a sense that he wants CIA to be viewed by the country the same way the military services are. You know, we don't kick around the uniformed military. There really is a recognition these people are serving the country, they're taking a risk. We've got to kind of respect what they do.

That has not been extended to CIA, to intelligence officers. It's a mystery why that's so, but it's clearly been the case. And I think he was saying I wants to take the "kick me" sign off the backside of this agency so that it can do its job better, and I think that's an important part of it.

JIM LEHRER: Is that important to the people at the CIA?

MARK LOWENTHAL: Oh, absolutely. Obviously.

JIM LEHRER: They're not worried about a military guy coming in, taking over a civilian agency?

MARK LOWENTHAL: I think most of them -- I mean, you have to think about the specifics of who Mike Hayden is. He's an intelligence professional. And he's not looking for another promotion. There are no more promotions. He's got four stars. He understands their business.

I think some of them will object to it. There's always some people. And the last deputy director is a three-star officer. So I think they do want to get out of the newspapers.

Controversy over NSA surveillance

Mark Lowenthal
Former Intelligence Officer
What the CIA does, you know, when they're writing an analysis may affect the public, but nobody's going to see it, whereas this is something where your phone may have been in this list.

JIM LEHRER: David, what did you think of the way General Hayden handled the whole NSA surveillance controversy? He didn't say very much about it, but generally how did he handle it?

DAVID IGNATIUS: He was very careful. You know, I think that, after the cameras departed in the closed session, he probably was more forthcoming. The basic thing he said was that, after September 11th, he was asked, you know, what can you do? What can you do that's aggressive to go after this frightening enemy?

And he came back and said, you know, here's what is technologically possible, here's what will help operationally, here's what legal, and here's the thing in the middle of that Venn diagram.

And at one point he said, "I couldn't not not do it." He's not really telling us what it was that he did, but I thought that he gave a very, kind of down-to-earth account of how he responded to the president's request for a very aggressive surveillance.

I think ahead of us lies a question of how we legalize, fully legalize and stabilize this program of surveillance that's been begun. And I thought I heard Hayden say -- and it was not included in the excerpts -- that he would be prepared to think about amendments to the FISA law, the law that guides surveillance, if that would help provide a legal framework that the American people would accept.

JIM LEHRER: And take the cloud of suspicion up off of it?


JIM LEHRER: What did you think about what he said about all of that?

MARK LOWENTHAL: Well, I thought he handled it very, very well, within the limits of what he could say publicly. I thought he also handled the issue of, you know, Senator Wyden's complaining that he wasn't briefed. Congressional oversight's an interesting phenomenon.

They purposely create a structure where you can modulate your briefing. He was very sensitive. You brief but you -- they mentioned the Gang of Eight. There is also a Gang of Four. There's also the full committee.

JIM LEHRER: Well, the Gang of Eight are the heads of the two...

MARK LOWENTHAL: Heads of the intelligence committees...

JIM LEHRER: ... and of their leadership of both parties.

MARK LOWENTHAL: ... of the two houses. And the Gang of Four is just the leadership. But the rules are whatever the members are comfortable with at a certain time. And I thought he handled that as well as he could have handled that. And, obviously, it sort of looked a little bit odd briefing the whole committee yesterday.

JIM LEHRER: But it was interesting. I didn't clock it, but it seemed to me, having watched the entire thing, they spent probably more time on that issue than they did on all of the others put together. Is it that important?

MARK LOWENTHAL: Well, I think, first of all, it's important publicly. It's important for -- I mean, this is the sort of thing -- this does affect the public. What the CIA does, you know, when they're writing an analysis may affect the public, but nobody's going to see it, whereas this is something where your phone may have been in this list.

And so I think, for the senators, it's sort of the type of thing they would react to and would want to get his reaction to on the public record.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think it's that important, David?

DAVID IGNATIUS: I think it is right now. I think this is a big issue. I think the polls show that the public is concerned about it. I think, you know, as Mark said, we've got a chance to see Mike Hayden today. And it's obvious that, if he's confirmed going forward, he's going to be a pretty effective spokesman to the public about all of these issues. He's a pretty good communicator.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.