Former CIA Director Michael Hayden tells Newsmax that President Barack Obama’s choice for Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, will face “very tough questions” in his confirmation hearings — but Hayden would have no reservations about approving him.
Hayden also says Obama’s choice for new CIA director, John Brennan, will face difficult questions from senators “fixated” on the agency’s targeted killings and renditions.
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And the retired 4-star Air Force General says that Syrian President Bashar Assad “can’t kill his way out of” the rebel challenges to his beleaguered regime.
Hayden served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from May 2006 until February 2009, shortly after Obama’s inauguration. He also served as Director of the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005, and is now on the Advisory Board of LIGNET.com, a Washington, D.C.-based intelligence analysis and forecasting service affiliated with Newsmax.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV, Hayden expressed his views on Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska.
“I knew Sen. Hagel when I was in government at NSA and CIA and he was very straightforward and easy to talk to,” he says.
“He was one of the senators you could go to and have this kind of face-to-face conversation, get the facts out on the table, and he would respond to me.
“Of course we didn’t always agree on things, but he was very reasonable. He and I continued our contact in the private sector after we had both left government and we’ve always had good, meaningful and interesting — at least from my point of view — conversations.”
Hagel has irritated some Israel backers with his reference to the "Jewish lobby" in the United States and has criticized discussion of a military strike by the U.S. or Israel against Iran.
Hayden comments: “With regard to Israel I’m sure his former fellow senators are going to ask him some very tough questions, and so he’s going to have the opportunity to make his views known and very clear for our Senate confirmation. That’s how the process should work.
“[He has] been in public life for a very time. He’s said a lot of things. Clearly people are going to do some research, find some other things that he has said and ask him questions about it, and go forward from there.”
Hayden was asked if he would have any reservations, if he were still actively serving in the military, about Hagel serving as the head of the Defense Department.
“No, I would not,” he responds. “I know him on a personal basis and had a good regard for him as a fair person, so no, I would not have objections to him.”
Hayden was also asked about the nomination of John Brennan to serve as the next head of the CIA. Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, withdrew from consideration for the spy agency's top job in 2008 amid questions about his connection to enhanced interrogation techniques during the George W. Bush administration.
Hayden tells Newsmax: “The key element for the director of CIA is that he has the trust of the president, and clearly John has that. So that’s very important. You don’t get into the game without having that element there four square and very clear.
“Now in this confirmation process, the senators are going to ask him a whole series of questions. There’s been an awful lot of things going on in the last four years and John has had a hand in them, so I’m sure they’ll ask him about targeting killings. In a way frankly that’s unfortunate, they’ll bring up the CIA rendition and detention and interrogation program, something that’s now deep in the past but some senators will continue to be fixated about it.
“They’re going to ask John about his role in that because he was there at the time. Obviously fair questions. A lot of us now see that as success in the fight against terror, and it really has been. I was part of this movement to focus the agency on al-Qaida and move against them.
“The agency has to remember that it’s also the nation’s global espionage service. So I’m sure they’re going to ask John questions about how we intend to take the agency’s game to the next level.”
As for the major challenges Brennan would face in his new post, Hayden says: “The first thing I guess is what I first mentioned: While continuing to keep America and Americans safe against terror, can you broaden the agency’s perspective to make sure it’s doing all the other things that the nation needs it to be doing? So that’s number one.
“Number two, and this is more personal, but I think it’s equally important: Mike Morell, the acting director now for the second time, is very highly regarded by the people at the agency, so one of the things that John will have to do if he’s confirmed is to allay any agency fears as to why Michael may not have been chosen, and that’s on a personal basis. The two men know one another very well, but it’s something that’s going to have to be taken care of.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad delivered a speech over the weekend vowing to continue the fight against rebels he called “murderous criminals.”
Hayden observes: “The speech had moments of defiance, and the seeming adulation from the audience was really quite remarkable — and frankly I think very depressing.
“He offered no way out in terms of negotiated settlements. I think he hardened his positions rather than trying to go towards some sort of nonviolent way forward.
“So I think folks like me are viewing this as regrettable. He’s doubling down on a course of action that we all know will not work. He can’t kill his way out of this.”
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