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Hayden Nomination Turns on More Than Qualifications

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency has become an issue in President Bush's choice to run the CIA.

The Senate Intelligence Committee begins hearings on General Michael Hayden's nomination tomorrow. Hayden is the former head of the NSA.

Today, we have the second of two commentaries on that nomination. Retired Admiral Stansfield Turner once held the job Hayden has been nominated to fill. Turner says, when it comes to running the CIA, more is at stake then Hayden's personal qualifications.

Admiral STANSFIELD TURNER (Former CIA Director; U.S. Navy, Retired): Some commentators are questioning whether a military officer, Gen. Michael Hayden, should head up a civilian agency, the CIA. That is a non issue.

The National Security Act of 1947 explicitly provides that the head of the CIA may be an active or retired military officer or a civilian. I served in that capacity for two years on active duty in the Navy, and for another two years in a retired status.

Other commentators are worrying that Gen. Hayden might acquiesce too readily to the wishes of the military in interpreting intelligence, presumably to curry favor for some future military assignment. That is a matter of individual fortitude. But I cannot imagine anyone of Gen. Hayden's background and character being that self-serving. Anyone providing direct and immediate support to the president of the United States takes that responsibility very seriously.

The issue before the country today is whether Gen. Hayden is qualified for the position. From what we can see from the outside, he appears to be eminently qualified. Many of us who have filled that position entered into it with far less experience in the field of intelligence. His personal qualifications, such as integrity and intellect, seem exemplary.

In my view, the only question is whether the approach he will take to managing the CIA is a sound one. Here we are going to have to wait for his confirmation hearings before the Senate in order to pass final judgment.

There is one point, though, which the public should watch closely during those hearings. That is the General's contention reflected in his practice as head of the National Security Agency, and in his recent statements, that existing law permits the tapping of the telephones of Americans without obtaining a warrant from a court. This is an important consideration when we think about the possibilities of intelligence officers intruding into our private lives.

President Carter sponsored, and Congress passed, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. It is my understanding that, contrary to Gen. Hayden's view, this Act requires obtaining a warrant from a special court in order to tap the telephones of Americans. Fortunately, the General's forthcoming hearings before the Senate will provide an opportunity to determine more authoritatively whether that is how the Congress intended that Act to be interpreted.

In my view, if Gen. Hayden holds to the position that warrants are not required for wiretapping, I believe he should not be confirmed.

Thus, the General's confirmation, or failure thereof, is rather more than just the issue of Michael Hayden. It is an opportunity to clarify just what the ground rules are for conducting wiretaps on Americans for the purpose of collecting intelligence.

MONTAGNE: Retired Admiral Stansfield Turner was Director of Central Intelligence in the Carter administration. He's the author of, Burn Before Reading: Presidents, CIA Directors, and Secret Intelligence.

You can hear yesterday's commentary, by former Senator Bob Graham, in favor of the Hayden nomination at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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