Architect of Domestic Spying Program Nominated to Head CIA

by Will Potter on May 8, 2006

in Surveillance

The former head of the National Security Agency, who designed and ardently defended Bush’s domestic spying program, today was nominated to head the CIA.

Air Force General Michael V. Hayden has been Bush’s go-to man on the illegal spying program that lets the National Security Agency eavesdrop on Americans’ calls and emails without a warrant.

The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act says that’s illegal — but pesky details like the law don’t seem to concern Hayden, who has vigorously defended the the president’s “wartime powers” to ignore basic legal standards like warrants and probable cause.

Mainstream news reports of the nomination, though, have focused primarily on Hayden’s military background. “Critical” comments in those stories have echoed Senator Dianne Feinstein’s quote in The Boston Globe and elsewhere:

”You can’t have the military control most of the major aspects of intelligence,” she said, adding that the CIA ”is a civilian agency and is meant to be a civilian agency.”

Sure, that’s a concern, but the bigger problem is that Hayden has shown no respect for the modest legal safeguards put in place to protect Americans from fishing expeditions.

As the American Civil Liberties Union’s Anthony Romero said:

“The appointment of General Hayden is the latest example of President Bush giving promotions to those who have led the greatest attacks on our Constitution and fundamental freedoms. This administration continues to demonstrate a fundamental lack of respect for the rule of law and our core civil liberties and civil rights.”

If there’s an upside to this, it’s that a confirmation fight means Hayden– theoretically– would have to tell more details about the spying program.

Senator Arlen Specter said it will give the Senate Intelligence Committee “an opportunity to try to find out about what the program is.”

But come on now. Are we really supposed to believe that lawmakers with top security clearance don’t have a clue what this program is about? Sure, we need more details (in particular, how the surveillance has been used against activists). But the basics of this illegal program have been out for months now… and lawmakers still haven’t acted.

Rejecting the confirmation of Hayden is a good start, but lawmakers need to go beyond that. They need to reign in illegal spying programs, punish those who created and enacted them, and put meaningful safeguards on our civil liberties.

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