The top Republican on the House intelligence committee thinks President-elect Obama should fire CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden, and replace him with his own appointee.
Never one to mince words, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R, Michigan) is urging Obama to replace Gen. Hayden with a civilian as soon as he takes office. “As critical as president-elect Obama has been with some of the policies of the intelligence community, I think he needs to make the change sooner rather than later,” Hoekstra told Newsmax in an exclusive interview.
“I think President Obama should get control of these agencies and put his imprint on them immediately. I think it would be a mistake for him to wait for six months,” he said.
Hoekstra was highly critical of Hayden because of what he sees as a military culture of stonewalling Congress that Hayden has cultivated since taking over as director of CIA in 2006.
He thought that Rep. Jane Harman (D, CA), who served with him on the intelligence committee after 9/11, would be a good replacement. “Jane is very level-headed on national security issues, and she has shown an ability - sometimes to the frustration of her own leadership - to work with Republicans toward getting a solution.”
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield tells Newsmax that Gen. Hayden’s military status “wasn’t an issue when he was on active duty, and it’s not an issue now.” As to speculation over the transition, Hayden has “tried to ignore it. He is focused on running the CIA,” Mansfield added.
But a senior intelligence official tells Newsmax there “haven’t been discussions” between Hayden and Obama about him staying on as CIA director.
“Mike likes the work, has a high regard for the people at the Agency, and cares passionately about the Agency’s mission,” this official said. “Those are the factors he would consider, if asked to stay for a period of time.”
The announcement by the Obama team that retired four-star admiral Dennis Blair will take over as Director of National Intelligence did nothing to make Hoekstra feel better about the direction the intelligence community is headed under Obama.
“Once again, this whole community is going to be run by the military. I just think that’s a huge mistake,” Hoekstra told Newsmax. “These guys are very talented, but they approach it in a very different way in regards to accountability and these kinds of things than a civilian might do.”
Of particular concern to Hoeksta was the way Gen. Hayden and CIA have handled the investigation of the April 2001 shoot-down of a single-engine Cessna over the Amazon River in Peru.
As part of a secret drug interdiction program, CIA spotters in small private planes would call in the coordinates of suspected drug-runners to the Peruvian Air Force, whose fighter jets would swoop down on the private planes and blast them from the skies.
On April 21, 2001, the Cessna carrying a family of Baptist missionaries from Hoekstra’s home state of Michigan was attacked by a Peruvian fighter jet without warning. During the attack, 35-year old Veronica “Roni” Bowers and her 7-month old daughter, Charity, were shot and killed. Her husband, Jim Bowers, and the couple’s 7-year old son survived when the wounded pilot managed to crash land the plane.
Hoekstra now says that CIA officials who testified in closed-door sessions before his committee lied, leading him to go along with a Justice Department decision in 2005 to close the case without filing criminal charges.
“I am very, very concerned that the investigation of the shootdown of the Peruvian plane is going to be nothing but a whitewash,” Hoekstra said.
“Innocent Americans died, and they didn’t have to, because of a CIA that has a history of operating outside the rules and not being held accountable. I think a civilian would have responded very differently from how Mike Hayden has responded. I think it’s going to be a cover-- I think it’s going to be a whitewash.”
On Nov. 20, 2008, Hoekstra released excerpts from a report by CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson that found the CIA lied to Congress and withheld information about the shootdown from the Justice Department.
“Within hours [of the incident], CIA officers began to characterize the shootdown as a one-time mistake in an otherwise well-run program. In fact, this was not the case,” Helgerson concluded.
Helgerson found “routine disregard of the required intercept procedures” under the program, leading to the result that “in many cases, suspect aircraft were shot down within two to three minutes of being sighted by the Peruvian fighter – without being properly identified, without being given the required warnings to land, and without being given time to respond to such warnings.”
In addtion, Helgerson found that CIA officers had made “unauthorized modifications to the presidentially-mandated intercept procedures” starting in 1995.
That finding infuriated Hoekstra. He chalked it up to a response by officers in the field to a tendency by CIA in the 1990s to run its covert operations by teams of lawyers back in Washington.
“They put in place these rules that maybe lawyers thought would work, but when the people in the field actually took a look at them, they said, ‘these don’t work.’ And they wanted to complete the mission so they wound up breaking the rules. You can’t do that.”
Hoekstra took aim at Gen. Hayden for keeping the investigation from Congress, and called on CIA to declassify the Inspector General’s report, or rewrite major portions of it so they could be released to the public.
The classified report was “damning,” he told Newsmax.
“Part of this, I think, is just the military way of doing things. They like to keep all of the problems within them and say, don’t worry, we’ll deal with it.’ What you’re seeing here is just a continuing pattern of the intel community being shaped in the model of the military. And I think that’s just wrong,” Hoekstra said.
“What I can’t figure out is why the Left hasn’t picked up on this, because it conveys their worst fears about the intelligence community: people with a tremendous amount of power who abuse it, and the end result is Americans dying. It can’t get any uglier than that,” he said.
Holgerson submitted his report to Gen. Hayden in August, then invited Hoekstra to CIA headquarters to discuss the findings.
“CIA takes seriously questions of oversight, responsibility, and accountability,” Spokesman Mark Mansfield said in response to questions from Newsmax. “Director Hayden believes the shootdown in April 2001 was a tragedy. He also believes that the fact that the actions under examination occurred years ago in no way reduces the need for fairness and rigor in looking at them.”
However, Hayden “will act prudently, not rashly. He believes the accountability process worthy of this agency is one conducted with care, candor, and common sense,” Mansfield added.
Hoekstra has announced that he will retire from Congress at the end of the next term, and told Newsmax he was considering making a run for Governor of Michigan in 2010.
One reason he will be leaving Congress is because of term limits decided by the House Republican conference which prevent him from continuing as ranking member of the House Permanent Select committee on intelligence.
“I love the things I’ve done on Intel. I love the field. I love the area. But you know, I’m prohibited from staying there. That was one of the things I had to factor in” when making the decision to leave Washington, he said.
Hoekstra was unhappy about the possibility, rumored among Democrats, that Hayden’s deputy, Stephen R. Kappes, could succeed him as director of CIA.
“When Kappes was brought back into the Agency, I was an outspoken opponent of that,” he said. “He hasn’t been open with Congress. This agency has to be accountable to somebody, and part of that somebody is Congress,” he said.
As I described in Shadow Warriors: The Untold story of Traitors, Saboteurs, and the Party of Surrender, Kappes resigned in a furor over the appointment of Porter Goss as CIA director in Nov. 2004, only to be brought back two years later by Gen. Hayden.
Kappes initially clashed with Goss and his aides over his role in the compromise of the CIA station in Belgrade, Serbia in 1999, when Goss was chairman of the House intelligence committee. Later, Kappes led an “insurrection” of Agency insiders against Goss over personnel issues and some of the reforms that Goss wanted to carry out.
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