Bush presses Senate to confirm Hayden for CIA
Washington, May 14: US President George W Bush urged the Senate to move quickly to approve Gen. Michael Hayden to head the CIA and defended his administration's actions in a new domestic spying controversy.
Bush yesterday praised Hayden in his weekly radio address as someone who knows the intelligence world well and is ''supremely qualified'' to lead the CIA.
''In Mike Hayden, the men and women of the CIA will have a strong leader who will support them as they work to disrupt terrorist attacks, penetrate closed societies, and gain information that is vital to protecting our nation,'' Bush said.
''I urge the Senate to confirm him promptly as the next director of the CIA,'' he added.
Hayden, an Air Force general, was picked to replace Porter Goss, who resigned under pressure last week.
Hayden's nomination immediately raised questions about an active-duty military officer heading the civilian spy agency. Some senators have also cited concerns about his former role leading the supersecret National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005.
The focus on Hayden's NSA experience intensified after a report in USA Today this week said the agency was amassing data on tens of millions of domestic telephone calls in an effort to uncover terrorist activities.
While the Bush administration has not denied the report, the president has insisted that his government was not ''trolling through'' people's personal lives.
Bush alluded to the controversy in his radio address, saying ''new claims have been made about other ways we are tracking down al Qaeda to prevent attacks on America.'' ''The intelligence activities I have authorised are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat,'' Bush said.
''The privacy of all Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities,'' he said.
USA Today said the NSA database used records provided by three major phone companies, AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp.
The report prompted Democrats and Republicans alike to demand an explanation.
The uproar over the decision to monitor call patterns followed revelations late last year that the NSA was eavesdropping inside the United States without warrants on international calls and e-mails of terrorism suspects.
Critics have called the eavesdropping programme a violation of civil rights, and the report on the phone records may heighten worries among some lawmakers who believe Bush may have pushed beyond the limits of his executive powers in the aftermath the September.
Bush said his administration's efforts were focused on al Qaeda militants and groups linked to it ''who want to harm the American people.'' Hayden, who made a round of courtesy calls on Capitol Hill this week, on Friday won support from two independent-minded Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, while Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada offered encouraging words.
His confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin next Thursday.