As Hayden headed into confirmation hearings this week, observers expected the four-star Air Force general to absorb lawmakers' outrage over the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping. A front-page story in USA Today, reporting that telecommunications companies helped the NSA build a massive database of Americans' phone calls, gave senators plenty of ammunition, but the ex-eavesdropper-in-chief was already an obvious target.
The newspaper report caught few on the Hill by surprise, several aides said, because much of it had been reported months earlier by other news organizations. "Certainly, no one was shocked" to read that phone companies were giving call data to the NSA, one Senate aide offered. The USA Today article created a new opportunity to grill the administration for details, but Hayden "was going to be asked questions about the program anyway," one senior Democratic staffer said.
No matter how hot the confirmation hearing, it seemed unlikely that any member of the Intelligence Committee would keep Hayden's nomination from a full Senate vote, the senior Democratic aide said. Indeed, Democrats may not have to try to block Hayden; Specter has done most of the dirty work for those in both parties who either oppose warrantless eavesdropping altogether or who want the administration to come clean on how expansive the surveillance program really is.
From his chairman's perch at the Judiciary Committee, Specter has held four hearings on the NSA program's legality, and he has promised to haul up the heads of the nation's biggest phone companies to account for their cooperation with the NSA. He could also unilaterally put a hold on Hayden's nomination -- although that is unlikely.
Public opinion polls are still murky on exactly how Americans feel about their calls being monitored, and the particulars of the operation are still sketchy, so it's doubtful that Democrats have enough information to block confirmation of a CIA director in wartime, the senior aide said. Such an act would be extraordinary, he added, and would almost certainly elicit White House accusations that Democrats are national security obstructionists.
Whether Specter would risk the wrath of his own party over the Hayden nomination is uncertain. Asked if he would move to block Hayden, Specter told Fox News on May 7, "I'm not making any predictions.... It's going to be up to the Intelligence Committee to have the hearings. I wish it were Judiciary, but it's not." Four days later he told reporters, "I want to see what the hearings before the Intelligence Committee do and see how the matter progresses. It's a very important nomination, and it's a very, very important program, and my powder is dry."
Presuming that Hayden wins full Senate confirmation, if he wants to inspire confidence in his leadership he must delve immediately into the nuts and bolts of CIA management, former agency officials said. First on the To Do list must be repairing the organization's weakened spying capabilities. The best chance for doing that may be letting loose his likely new No. 2, Stephen Kappes, who resigned in 2004 following a well-publicized blowup with Porter Goss, the CIA director who stepped down on May 5.
Rarely has the arrival of a new CIA director been attended by such anticipation over his deputy. John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, was so eager to get the word out that he announced Kappes's potential return to the CIA in advance of Hayden's confirmation hearing.
Kappes has not been formally nominated to be No. 2, but if Hayden is confirmed, Negroponte made it clear that Kappes wouldn't be far behind. Kappes presumably has the trust of the White House after his performance as President Bush's point man on secret negotiations with Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi. Those talks ended with the former terrorist patron surrendering his weapons-of-mass-destruction programs.
Kappes left the CIA in late 2004, at the height of his career. He was the director of operations, heading all CIA clandestine activities. A career spy runner -- he served in Moscow and Pakistan and speaks Russian and Persian -- Kappes quit rather than follow an order from Goss's chief of staff, Patrick Murray, that Kappes fire his own deputy, Michael Sulick, reportedly after Sulick called Murray "a Hill puke" in a meeting. Murray had been a staff member on the House Intelligence Committee when Goss was its chairman. Kappes and Sulick both resigned, and CIA employees who were embittered by Goss's reign vaulted Kappes to martyr status.
Kappes's tenure as operations chief was brief but profound. "Steve's appointment [in October 2004] was electric in that building," said William Nolte, the former assistant director of central intelligence for community management. "It really did send the signal that, 'Hey, we're going to be OK.' His quick departure [a month later], and the way it happened, was a bad omen."
If Kappes, with his human-intelligence expertise, becomes the agency's No. 2, he would be a complement and counterweight for Hayden. The former NSA director's experience lies in electronic intelligence-gathering, not human spying, so Hayden needs Kappes's skills to reinvigorate the spy cadre, former officials said. But the deputy designee would also be a salve for lawmakers worried about putting a military officer in charge of a civilian intelligence agency. The combination of Hayden and Kappes "was a brilliant stroke," the senior Democratic aide said. "It's my sense there is a whole generation of [operations] officers who'd been looking forward to the day that Steve Kappes would be running the place."
Kappes's abrupt departure crushed that hope. Now some expect that the operations directorate, renamed the National Clandestine Service, will become a more aggressive and "forward leaning" operation. "Does this mean taking someone and putting them out [in the field] for years at a shot?" asked Ronald Marks, a former CIA congressional liaison. "It certainly means moving away from embassy-based operations," the CIA's traditional forte, he answered.
"On the [human-intelligence] side, you've got some fundamental problems," Marks said. "How do you deal with an enemy that has more information or as much information as you do? If you're talking about piercing a group of people who are family or tribal members, you're going to have to play a very dangerous game." And on that score, Marks said, "Kappes has been very innovative over the years. He will try to push the idea of getting guys deeper and further out."
Michael Scheuer, who left the CIA two years ago after leading the hunt for Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, said, "Kappes was the best [operations director] we had in at least a decade. He's been to hard, ugly places and been successful."
Scheuer cautioned, however, that Kappes's return could be nothing more than "window dressing" by a White House eager to defuse what it perceives as a rebellion by disgruntled CIA employees. Historically, he noted, the deputy director has often been relegated to a minor role. He's "really nothing unless the [director] is out of town."
But if Hayden gives Kappes the operational control he needs to make tangible reforms, then the relatively short time left in the Bush administration could produce some positive changes, Scheuer said. For instance, if Kappes could establish a program for training more "targeting analysts," then "that would be a service to America."
Targeting analysts are the people who gather various streams of intelligence -- from satellites, human sources, historical files -- to help spies in the field actually run their operations. They are the analytic engines behind clandestine work. Kappes ran the CIA's counterintelligence center, which relies on targeting analysts, so he knows how they work, Scheuer said.
"Kappes can certainly be of great assistance to Hayden, if Hayden is in a listening mode," Scheuer added. But if the new deputy is used just to fill in for Hayden's comparative inexperience with human intelligence, or if a new clandestine service chief moves in from the ranks of Negroponte's office, without Kappes's consent, Scheuer cautioned, then the much-heralded return of the prodigal son will mean only that "Kappes is along for the ride."
If that's the case, former officials see little hope that Hayden's arrival at the CIA heralds the dawn of a new day.