Senators pressed the nominee for CIA director Thursday.
In confirmation hearings Thursday, senators pressed Gen. Michael Hayden not only on his plans for the Central Intelligence Agency, but also on his past role in warrantless domestic surveillance and data-mining of tens of millions of American phone records.
At stake is not only leadership of the CIA, but also public support for an agency battered by leaks and intelligence failures, internal rifts, and constant overhaul. If confirmed, General Hayden will be the fourth CIA director since 9/11, after George Tenet, John McLaughlin, and Porter Goss, who on May 5 was forced to step down.
But the activities of another agency - the supersecretive National Security Agency - are what dominated the senators' questioning Thursday. General Hayden directed the NSA from 1999 to 2005, and has been deputy director of national intelligence under John Negroponte since April 2005.
"Disclosing parts of the [NSA] program that might be the most palatable and acceptable to the American people, while maintaining secrecy about parts that may be troubling to the public until they are leaked, is unacceptable," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel, at the opening of Thursday's hearing.
He and other Democrats cited previous comments by Hayden and other members of the Bush administration that intrusion into privacy is limited to international calls and does not include domestic surveillance.
"I chose my words very carefully," Hayden said, referring to an appearance before the National Press Club earlier this year where he described the NSA program as limited to "only international calls." "I was as full and open as I was allowed to be."