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Rumsfeld backs CIA nominee, denies 'power grab'

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, May 10 (Reuters) Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today acknowledged a past disagreement with Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden but backed the nominee to head the CIA while ridiculing the notion of a Pentagon ''power grab'' over intelligence functions.

President George W. Bush nominated Hayden to the post yesterday, picking an active-duty military officer to head the civilian Central Intelligence Agency to replace Porter Goss, who resigned last week under pressure.

Rumsfeld described the Pentagon as the largest user of US intelligence information but denied wanting more control of the US intelligence apparatus.

''The quality of the debate on this subject is pedestrian and unimpressive,'' Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing.

''All we read about is, 'Oh, this bureaucratic fight there,' and, 'Someone's doing a power grab there,' and, 'Oh, my goodness gracious, there's a conspiracy about this.''' Since 2001, the Pentagon under Rumsfeld has widened its intelligence functions while also creating the new post of undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

Bush's nomination for the new CIA head has set up a battle with the U.S. Congress over Hayden's military background and also his key role in Bush's domestic spying program.

Rumsfeld said Hayden did an excellent job when he headed the National Security Agency, a component of the Pentagon devoted to electronic eavesdropping and code-breaking.

Pentagon agencies represent about 80 percent of the U.S.

intelligence budget.

'NO TENSION' ''There is no tension,'' Rumsfeld said. ''I've been working with Mike Hayden for five-plus years.'' Rumsfeld acknowledged differing with Hayden in 2004 when Congress was considering legislation to restructure the U.S.

intelligence community. Hayden favored having the NSA, which he then headed, move under the control of the proposed Director of National Intelligence. Rumsfeld wanted it to remain under the Pentagon.

''Mike was on one side of that issue,'' Rumsfeld said. ''I was kind of where the president was. And then when the president decided not to move it over, I was in favor of that. Now, is that a big deal? Not that I know of.'' Rumsfeld also denied having problems with Goss, U.S.

intelligence chief John Negroponte or former CIA head George Tenet.

Some lawmakers have expressed concern about a military officer heading the civilian CIA. Bush administration officials have argued that even though Hayden remains an active-duty general, he will not be tethered to Rumsfeld or the military.

''And there certainly has never been a stipulation that you should not have someone from the military as (CIA) director or deputy director,'' Rumsfeld said.

Hayden went to the U.S. Capitol today to meet with lawmakers, including members from both parties on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is expected to convene his confirmation hearing before May 26.

Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia called for a hearing as soon as possible. ''I intend to go into that hearing very positively and I hope to give him support,'' Warner said.

Reuters PDS VP0255

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