Topic: Breaking News
The CIA Gamble: The No-Nonsense, Blue-Collar General from Pittsburgh
Like Gertrude Stein, Oscar Levant, Gene Kelly and Andy Warhol, and Ernest Borgnine, Lieutenant General Michael V. Hayden comes from Pittsburgh, so you have to like him. His father worked as a welder and Hayden drove a cab as he worked his way through the quite respectable Duquesne University there - BA History 1967 and MA Modern American History 1969. And like Colin Powell, the child of Jamaican immigrants who grew up in Queens, Hayden come up through the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). Not all the top generals start out at West Point (or in the case of Marine Generals and Navy Admirals, Annapolis). Hayden got there the harder way.
And now he may run the CIA, as the morning announcement on Monday, May 8, was what had been rumored since the previous guy, the civilian Porter Goss, resigned the Friday before, surprising everyone. Something was up.
The News -
Yeah, Hayden looks a little scary (photo courtesy of Martini Republic), but he's a blue-collar sort and not a Republican operative like Goss, the former congressman from Florida, and former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who had key CIA senior managers and directors quitting left and right in disgust as Goss worked on purging the CIA of anyone who brought in facts from the field that undermined what Vice President Cheney and his associates knew was true and were feeding to the uncomplicated president. Kappes "coming in from the cold" (in a sense other than what those words mean in the spy novels) could be a good sign.
But the Hayden guy looks a bit like an evil Elmer Fudd. And even if he's an Air Force general, and "the highest-ranking military intelligence officer in the armed forces," he is the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, responsible for overseeing the day-to-day activities of the national intelligence program - he runs the National Security Agency (NSA), and has vigorously defended the president's ongoing program to tap citizens' phones and read their email without doing what the law quite specifically requires, obtaining a warrant from the FISA court that was set up just for that purpose. And he's Principal Deputy Director to National Intelligence Director, the big cheese, John Negroponte, who has his own history, recently our ambassador in Iraq, before that our UN ambassador, and long before that reported to be the man who, as our ambassador to Honduras, funded and directed the death squads bumping off nuns and such in that Contra business down that way. Elmer Fudd just tried to shoot Bugs Bunny. These two are a little creepy.
Hayden too may have not remembered much from his classroom days at Duquesne University. Everyone worried about this appointment was reminding everyone they could buttonhole of this - speaking at the National Press Club in Washington on January 23, 2006, about that warrantless surveillance, during the question and answer period following his speech, the man flatly denied that a "probable cause" was standard in the Fourth Amendment that limits the government's ability to conduct searches and, by extension, surveillance. He said those words just weren't in the Fourth Amendment.
Knight-Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay made the mistake of opening a question with "the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures." Big mistake -
More taste! Less filling! You could look it up. It says both - "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
But Hayden persisted -
One reporter, James Bamford, asked him if the real purpose of going around the FISA was "to lower the standard from what they call for, which is basically probable cause, to a reasonable basis; and then to take it away from a federal court judge, the FISA court judge, and hand it over to a shift supervisor at NSA."
Hayden then defended the professionalism of the shift supervisors. He wasn't going to touch that.
Something is up. Perhaps an "Orwell Alert" is called for.
Of course no one questions his credentials as a wonderful officer and a man who actually knows how to run large organizations (unlike Goss, his predecessor, with no experience running anything at all). He's good. People do, however, question his grasp of what's legal, and what certain organizations are allowed to do, and not allowed to do. He doesn't seem to think that matters all that much. It's new world - 9/11 changed everything and all that.
And the organization, the CIA, does need some help.
As the Hayden announcement was made, there was this in the background -
It seems the CIA's inspector general is investigating Foggo's relationship with Brent Wilkes, the defense contractor implicated in the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery thing. Foggo and Wilkes are old college buddies (San Diego State) and they're close, best man at each other's wedding and all that. And it looks like Foggo may have steered CIA contracts to companies controlled by Wilkes or one of his relatives, accordinng to this.
There's some cleaning up to do. And the New York Daily News had reported here that the investigation had spooked the mysterious Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (a group of private citizens the president appoints to help out - mostly business folks) and they leaned to John Negroponte to talk the president, who never fires anayone, and tell him he really did have to dump Goss. Yeah, if you're loyal to the president and say yes a lot, and help get his enemies, your job is safe. But not always. It helps if you also are not so foolish as to be caught with you hand in the till. The "being caught" is the problem. Bad form. There are enough problems.
There are those dismal polls.
The previous week there was a bit of a break as the Fox News poll showed a reversal in the low approval ratings - the president moved up from thirty-three percent to thirty-eight percent approval. The man who thinks Bush hung the moon, and maintained Bush way back when really did volunteer to fly combat missions in Vietnam, Fred Barnes, here said things are actually turning around. Just look at the numbers.
All the other polls had the president's approval ratings in the low thirties, and dropping. The Fox News poll turned out to be an anomaly, or at least a poll with very cleverly worded questions. Monday, May 8th, as Hayden was being introduced as the new CIA guy, USA Today / Gallup released their new numbers. They showed a drop in the president's approval rating of three points in one week, down to a record low of thirty-one percent. (With two and a half years to go in his term, at a drop of three points a week, the president's approval rating when he leaves office would, in a simple linear projection, be at negative three hundred fifty-seven percent, hypothetically.) In the item the University of Wisconsin polling expert Charles Franklin adds this - "You hear people say he has a hard core that will never desert him, and that has been the case for most of the administration, but for the last few months, we started to see that hard core seriously erode in support." What? The overall disapproval rating is sixty-five percent, and just fifty-two percent of self-described conservatives approve of what he's doing. This is no time for a bribery scandal at the CIA. The straight-shooting guy from Pittsburgh was the answer, and not a moment too soon, even if he is a little shaky on what the constitution and the FISA law say. At least he's not a crook.
But he must be confirmed by the Senate, and there may be a problem there. There was discussion of the Hayden nomination the weekend before the announcement (everyone knew what it would be, of course). Key senators, including some Republicans, didn't thin the man from Pittsburgh would do at all, as Fred Kaplan explains here
But then Kaplan quotes Peter Hoekstra, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Goss' old job before the CIA, saying "We need to be able to get the unvarnished intelligence, and we need to be able to get it from a civilian. Putting a general in charge is going to send the wrong signal through the agency here in Washington but also to our agents in the field around the world."
Maybe so. When Baghdad fell it was the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, that was put in charge in Iraq, with the mandate to fix things. It wasn't the State Department as one might have expected. Al the generals up through their civilian task master, Rumsfeld, have not inspired confidence. A general at the CIA? That thought makes some a bit antsy.
And would Hayden report to John Negroponte or Donald Rumsfeld. As an Air Force general he does report to Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, on paper, but he's been on loan to the man in the newly created position of coordinating all intelligence of all sorts, Negroponte. This is very odd.
It's very Byzantine - Rumsfeld wants to run everything, and so does Negroponte. Who knows what to make of the appointment of the overly-matrixed constitutionally-challenged general from Pittsburgh?
Kaplan doesn't have an answer, but is troubled by that Fourth Amendment business at the question and answer session at the National Press Club. He says that's pretty "startling" -
Maybe so, but there's a growing sense that the Fourth Amendment business at the question and answer session at the National Press Club is just why the guy from Pittsburgh was nominated. The theory there would be that since the public has been made so fearful of "the bad guys" they will rally around the president when the questions about trashing the constitution and ignoring the laws come up in the confirmation hearings - do you want a wimp who plays by the silly rules and mere niceties, or do you want a real man, a blue-collar no-nonsense welder's son who will cut through all the crap and get the bad guys? That's worked before. Hayden then becomes a symbol, someone to remind America of why they once liked George "I don't do nuance" Bush so much. The approval numbers will skyrocket, or not.
That's risky. Hidden in the polls is an odd implication that in some way perhaps two-thirds of us, when we hear someone bragging that "I don't think about things - I do things," look around at how things are going and mutter "Yeah, right." The magic may be gone.
But the hope lives on. Super-right-man, Hugh Hewitt, here thinks the Hayden nomination is just great, because it "proudly asserts that the NSA program ... was not only the right thing to do, it was completely within the law." And another comment here - "I say, bring it on. The White House NEEDS to fight this battle, to expose the anti-security Left." But that one's from a sixteen-year-old. Adults now expect nuance, and some attempt to avoid breaking the actual law, and some attempt to follow the actual words in the constitution.
We'll see. And it may not matter, as here it seems the general from Pittsburgh may be connected to the "Duke" Cunningham bribery scandal too.
The real Elmer Fudd:
The cartoon that really applies here is Pinky and the Brain - a genetically engineered mouse (who sounds a whole lot like Orson Welles) and his quite amusingly insane mouse cohort make nightly attempts to take over the world. This was a co-production of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and Warner Brothers that ran from 1995 to 1998. There were sixty-five episodes, and it wasn't really for kids - the dialog was far too witty and subtle, and there were all those references to classic films like "The Third Man" and "Bride of Frankenstein" and such. It was about power and insanity.
Pinky: Gee, Brain. What are we going to do tonight?
The Brain: The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world.
Note this cell. You can clearly see Michael Hayden and John Negroponte, or George Bush and Dick Cheney. Hollywood always has been subversive.