Congressmen Question Military Officer as CIA Head

Several key congressmen from both sides of the aisle are expressing reservations about putting a military officer, General Michael Hayden, in charge of the CIA.

A leading Republican came out against the front-runner for CIA director, Gen. Michael Hayden, saying Sunday the spy agency should not have military leadership during a turbulent time among intelligence agencies. Members of the Senate committee that would consider President Bush’s nominee also expressed reservations, saying the CIA is a civilian agency and putting Hayden atop it would concentrate too much power in the military for intelligence matters.

Bush was expected to nominate a new director as early as Monday to replace Porter Goss, who abruptly resigned on Friday. But opposition to Hayden because of his military background is mounting on Capitol Hill, where he would face tough hearings in the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Despite a distinguished career at the Defense Department, Hayden would be “the wrong person, the wrong place at the wrong time,” said the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich. “There is ongoing tensions between this premier civilian intelligence agency and DOD as we speak,” Hoekstra said. “And I think putting a general in charge – regardless of how good Mike is – … is going to send the wrong signal through the agency here in Washington but also to our agents in the field around the world,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”

If Hayden were to get the nomination, military officers would run the major spy agencies in the United States, from the ultra-secret National Security Agency to the Defense Intelligence Agency. The Pentagon already controls more than 80 percent of the intelligence budget. “You can’t have the military control most of the major aspects of intelligence,” said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The CIA “is a civilian agency and is meant to be a civilian agency,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.”

A second committee member, GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, added, “I think the fact that he is a part of the military today would be the major problem.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., mentioned fears the CIA would “just be gobbled up by the Defense Department” if Hayden were to take over.

As a former Army officer and one who has long advocated moving the “operations” mission of CIA and the rest of the Intelligence Community to the Defense Department, with analysis functions consolidated into fewer agencies, I am not particularly impressed by these arguments. After all, to paraphrase George Will, these people are essentially arguing that, if we put the military in charge of CIA, we would risk sacrificing the superb intelligence work we’re getting now.

Further, as someone with a little bit of historical insight, I find the notion that a military head of CIA would be problematic a bit amusing:

Director Tenure
Rear Adm. Sidney Souers, USNR January 23, 1946June 10, 1946
Lt. Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, USA June 10, 1946May 1, 1947
Rear Adm. Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, USN May 1, 1947October 7, 1950
Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, USA October 7, 1950February 9, 1953
Allen W. Dulles February 26, 1953November 29, 1961
John McCone November 29, 1961April 28, 1965
Vice Adm. William Raborn, USN (Ret.) April 28, 1965June 30, 1966
Richard M. Helms June 30, 1966February 2, 1973
James R. Schlesinger February 2, 1973July 2, 1973
William E. Colby September 4, 1973January 30, 1976
George H. W. Bush January 30, 1976January 20, 1977
Adm. Stansfield Turner, USN (Ret.) March 9, 1977January 20, 1981
William J. Casey January 28, 1981January 29, 1987
William H. Webster May 26, 1987August 31, 1991
Robert M. Gates November 6, 1991January 20, 1993
R. James Woolsey February 5, 1993January 10, 1995
John M. Deutch May 10, 1995December 15, 1996
George J. Tenet July 11, 1997July 11, 2004 (resigned June 3, 2004)
John E. McLaughlin (acting director) July 11, 2004September 24, 2004
Porter J. Goss September 24, 2004May 5, 2006

See Wikipedia for working links.

As you can see, almost all of the early CIA Directors were military officers.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Boyd says:

    While I certainly wasn’t familiar with the CIA’s leadership early in its existence, I do remember when Adm Turner was appointed.

    So this begs the question to the nay-sayers: please point out the problems during, at least, Turner’s tenure that were associated with his military background.

  2. phreshone says:

    Almost all of them, except Goss, Tenet, Deutch, Schlesinger, and McCone, had military service. With only Clinton’s appointments (Tenet and Deutch) without extensive defense/intelligence backgrounds.

  3. Operations Officer Plame(OOPs) says:

    The CIA is actually the OSS. the British office of special services, air force. The OOs or operation officers were origially from WWII. Bush was in WWII and started the CIA ‘with Donovan.’ Donovan was important to the OSS, not the Office of Safety and Security, which came later.


    James Bond was invented by Ian Flemming of the OSS. OO7 or Operations Officer 7 was what most wanted the work to be, glamorous. It was the exact opposite. So, it’s 2 007 next year and I heard it’ll be in the movie.

    The problem todayis it is a union. Bye.

  4. legion says:

    James, I’m not sure your examples support your position… While the first several directors were military, as previously noted, it had only just changed from being the OSS during WWII, so many of its senior officers were military; there wasn’t much civilian staff to choose from.

    But if I’m not mistaken, both Raborn and Turner were already retired when they were selected for the job… the last active-duty officer to run the CIA was Smith, who left over 50 years ago. Since active duty officers were only directors for the first 7 years of an organization that’s been around (in this incarnation, anyway) for over 60 years, I don’t think there’s much in the way of precedent for a uniform-wearing director today.

    Also, as some have noted, there is the question of conflict-of-interest between the CIA, which is nominally independent, and the SecDef, who is nominally Hayden’s boss so long as he’s in uniform. It’s not nearly so confusing now that the DIA no longer belongs to the director, but I’m sure it’ll make it bloody difficult for Hayden to have an unbiased opinion in the ongoing turf wars about the proper ownership of military intel assets… but that’s a debate for another thread.

  5. Jay Tea says:

    George H. W. Bush was also USN (ret), but never achieved flag rank. In fact, it looks like he left the service at the end of World War II as a Lieutenant or Lieutenant Junior Grade.


  6. stan25 says:

    All of this hot air against the appointment of General Hayden as CIA Director, is just a major pissing contest between the White House and the Congress. The Congress has the idea that with the low approval ratings of the president, they can get away with murder. I hate to break the news to the idiots, that infest the leadership on both sides of the aisle, the American public holds the Congress in even lower esteem. There are some people that have utter contempt for them.

    I don�t hear them complaining about appointing military officers to head the State Department. In fact, I think that the Congress critters would like a military man in that position. That is not an unprecedented move either, as there have been several members of the military that have Secretaries of State. The two most recent ones that come to mind are George C Marshall and Colin Powell

  7. DC Loser says:

    Stan – Powell was retired. The issue here is an ACTIVE DUTY officer being the head of the CIA. As James has pointed out, that hasn’t happened since the day of Allen Dulles. The concern here is a possible conflict of interest as to whom Hayden will see has his boss – Rumsfeld or Negroponte? And what happens when CIA operations or analysis contradicts Pentagon policy or analysis? Personally I don’t think this is an issue. Hayden is a very smart guy and a straight shooter, and I think his 4 star rank will protect him from any pressure coming from the Pentagon. But that’s just my take.