Four-star Air Force General Michael Hayden easily won Senate confirmation as the new head of the CIA on Friday by a vote of 78-15, according to The Associated Press. A pledge to work independent of the Pentagon was the key to the confirmation, which will make Hayden, 61, the first active-duty or retired military officer to run the spy agency in 25 years.
Hayden is currently the top deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte and he succeeds Porter Goss, who headed the troubled agency for 18 months and was reportedly pushed out over his clashes with Negroponte.
"Winning the war on terror requires that America have the best intelligence possible, and his strong leadership will ensure that we do," President Bush said in a statement. "General Hayden is a patriot and a dedicated public servant whose broad experience, dedication and expertise make him the right person to lead the CIA at this critical time."
Hayden headed the National Security Agency from 1999-2005, during which time he implemented and oversaw the controversial warrantless wiretapping program in which the agency collected records on phone calls made within the U.S. and tracked some overseas calls in a search for hints of terrorist activity (see "At Confirmation Hearing, CIA Nominee Defends Secret Wiretaps").
During his confirmation hearings, Hayden tried to assure senators that he would work independently from his military superiors, but would be conscious of how his armed-services background affects his relationship with CIA staffers. If his military status were to get in the way, Hayden said he'd "make the right decision," according to the AP, which was taken as a sign that he'd be willing to retire from the Air Force if necessary.
After Goss' surprise resignation May 5 (see "CIA Director Porter Goss Resigns"), the White House fast-tracked Hayden's nomination, pushing it through in 17 days in part by finally agreeing to answer Congress' five-month-old requests for more information on the eavesdropping program, according to the AP.
The warrantless wiretapping program was one of the major issues at the center of the debate over Hayden's qualifications, and during Thursday night's final hearings, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden again raised the question of whether the Air Force general was the best choice (see "Bush's CIA Candidate Already Encountering Strong Opposition"). Wyden said the wiretapping program raised "serious questions about whether the general is the right person to lead the CIA, serious questions about whether the general will continue to be an administration cheerleader, serious questions about his credibility."