CIA nominee's hearing may focus on wiretapping
"It's an excellent opportunity for Congress to ask some tough questions about NSA's warrantless wiretapping program," said Kurt Opsahl, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The American Civil Liberties Union urged the Senate to "vigorously question the nominee" about the program, calling it a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, called the nomination "troubling." "The concern is Gen. Hayden was head of the NSA when the agency undertook the warrantless surveillance of American citizens," Rotenberg said.
Hayden, 61, sailed through the Senate confirmation process to be sworn in as the NSA director in April 2005. But that was before The New York Times broke the story about NSA's surveillance program in December.
While Senate Intelligence Committee Pat Roberts, R-Kan., supported Hayden then, he told reporters that he is not in a position now to say he will vote for Hayden. Roberts' committee will conduct the confirmation hearings.
The nomination comes as polls show President Bush has low popularity among voters and fellow Republicans.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said confirmation hearings should center on the legality of the wiretapping program. He said it is an issue he has tried to investigate himself through hearings but without success. But in a statement released by Specter spokesman Scott Hoeflich, Specter called Hayden "a real professional" and said he represents a chance to "really revive the CIA and go back to the professionalism."
Bush told reporters Monday that Hayden is "the right man to lead the CIA at this critical moment in our nation's history." Hayden said he looks forward to "meeting with the leaders of the Congress, better understanding their concerns and working with them to move the American intelligence community forward."
Rotenberg said EPIC plans to work with other privacy and civil-liberties advocates to make sure the oversight committee "presses Hayden very closely on the legality of the domestic surveillance program."
The group has posted a transcript of Hayden's January speech at the National Press Club on its Web site. Hayden defended the wiretapping program, saying that NSA does not have the staff or the time to spy on ordinary Americans.
"It is not a driftnet over Dearborn or Lackawanna or Freemont grabbing conversations that we then sort out by these alleged keyword searches or data-mining tools or other devices that so-called experts keep talking about," Hayden said. "This is targeted and focused. This is not about intercepting conversations between people in the United States.
"This is hot pursuit of communications entering or leaving America involving someone we believe is associated with al Qaeda. We bring to bear all the technology we can to ensure that this is so."