News : Counterpoint

C*I*A – Hayden’s appointment would put our spooks firmly in the military’s pocket

It’s possible that Air Force General Michael Hayden is the nicest guy on the planet* — Mother Teresa in fatigues — but that doesn’t make him the right man to head up the Central Intelligence Agency. Time reports in its May 15 issue that Bush likely nominated Hayden at the behest of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, who has had trouble getting the CIA to cooperate with his post-9/11 mandate to get the various spook agencies to share information. Hayden has been Negroponte’s right-hand man since early last year; before that he was in charge of the National Security Agency, where he implemented the secret, warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens (*and forgot to tell the congressional intelligence committees, which is why I think that even if there is no better company on the links at Shinnecock Hills, he’s not a good choice here).

Just as crucial — in fact, related — is the fact that Hayden is an active-duty military man, not a civilian. The military, understandably and necessarily, does not operate according to the same democratic prerogatives you and I take for granted — i.e. the government will follow proper channels in exercising its police power even if it’s inconvenient or won’t yield a tactical advantage. The Army’s job is to win at all costs; a democracy’s job is to preserve a participatory republic that protects the rights of all citizens. The reason a (heavily armed) non-democratic entity can function in and for a democratic society is that it answers to civilian leadership.

“The `CIA` is a civilian agency,” Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss fretted to the Associated Press. “I don’t think we need somebody heading up the `CIA` that’s just going to do every single thing that the director of national intelligence tells him to do.”

In Harper’s April issue, the editor convenes a panel of military experts, including historians and former military men, to discuss the “unthinkable,” an American military coup (they meet at a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, which suggests that a sequel panel about the American chain-restaurant coup might be in order). The talking heads at first insist a coup would never work on American soil, citing in no small measure the ingrained culture in the armed forces of answering to a civilian government, but under closer questioning they begin to imagine possible scenarios — a more severe terrorist attack or seige, or a plague, perhaps — under which U.S. citizens would actually usher the military into the Oval Office. They cite the wide call for the military to intervene in the post-Hurricane Katrina disaster, and polls that show the citizenry think more highly of the armed forces than they do their elected officials.

President Jimmy Carter, who has been more or less beatified by the left since he left office, put a military man in charge of the CIA, General Stanfield Turner, and the sky did not fall. But the entire culture of the government back then, while hardly what one would call “integrity-rich,” was markedly different than it is today. The individuals that the Bush Administration has selected to head the powerful agencies and offices that control much of our public — and increasingly, private — lives are, to a man and a woman, demonstrably uninterested in answering to you, the citizens for whom they (theoretically) work: Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, John Negroponte, every press secretary that’s stood in the briefing room the list goes on.

Hayden’s authorization of the warrantless wiretaps alone should disqualify him for the top CIA job, but even if his professional spook record weren’t marred by fundamentally undemocratic behavior, he still wouldn’t be a good choice. An active-duty military man in charge of the CIA? As the House Intelligence Committee chair, Michigan’s Pete Hoekstra, summed it up for the AP, “ we’re going to have every single major intelligence agency under the control of the military, `and` I felt I have to stand up and say I can’t go that way.” America can’t go that way, either, for that way lies a police state.