WASHINGTON – The man at the center of the growing furor over the National Security Agency’s surveillance of Americans’ domestic phone calls, Gen. Michael Hayden, is an Air Force officer who never flew a fighter jet or dropped a bomb. He rose through the ranks by, in Pentagon parlance, staying in his lane.
Inside the corridors of power, he has cultivated a reputation as a quiet, effective intelligence bureaucrat, keeping well below the public radar until his nomination last week to head the CIA. But one of his predecessors in the highly secret NSA job said Hayden’s style is common in Washington.
“He is sort of an archetype,” said retired Army Gen. William Odom, like Hayden a former director of the National Security Agency and the author of a book on intelligence reform. He called Hayden a Washington suck-up “and move up.”
With a furor erupting earlier over an NSA domestic surveillance program and, last week, its databank of phone calls by U.S. citizens, Hayden’s career, and especially his management of the secretive agency, is certain to be scrutinized at his upcoming confirmation hearings. Hayden headed the NSA from 1999 until last year.
The NSA is an electronic eavesdropping agency based in Ft. Meade, Md., just north of Washington, that is prohibited by law from spying on U.S. citizens. It has been wracked recently by dissension and accusations of wrongdoing by former employees. Several large technology contracts administered during Hayden’s tenure also appear to be faltering.
Throughout his service at NSA and, since last year, in his job as deputy to John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, Hayden, 61, has remained well-liked within the Bush administration.
He told lawmakers at a congressional hearing several years ago, “This is one of the few times in the history of my agency that the director has testified in open session about operational matters.”
The first time was in the mid-1970s, he said, “when one of my predecessors sat here nearly mute while being grilled by members of Congress for intruding upon the privacy rights of the American people.”
Now Hayden could face his own grilling this week, and his role in improvising and directing surveillance activities that may have violated federal privacy laws could become a central theme. Hayden ran the NSA at a time when the agency may have mattered most – after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
During a congressional appearance in October 2002, he was called to explain how the NSA had missed the significance of two electronic intercepts in which al-Qaida suspects were overheard apparently discussing the attacks.
Hayden said that the NSA did not know the hijackers were inside the U.S., that the conversations did not specifically mention a coming attack and that they were diluted by at least 30 other suggestions that “something was imminent.”
That information, he said, was shared by NSA with other government agencies.
Since then, NSA veterans say, Hayden has taken the initiative to launch surveillance programs to track possible terrorist phone calls and e-mails into and out of the United States, and to build massive databases, such as the phone records the NSA reportedly purchased, to discover calling patterns that could suggest contact with terrorist suspects.
“He is not a shouter or a screamer,” said retired Adm. Bobby Inman, who also once directed the NSA. “Watching how he analyzes and responds to problems, he’s quick. His blue-collar roots out of Pittsburgh come to the surface. . . . He has a temper, but he keeps it under pretty good control.”
Hayden’s selection to replace Porter Goss at the embattled CIA drew praise in Congress, even from some Democrats. But kind words were quickly shouted down by concerns over the NSA’s role in spying on Americans, and Hayden’s and the Bush administration’s apparent failure to fully inform Congress of those activities.
(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
And Hayden, according to one senior intelligence official, went to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisor Board to criticize Goss. After hearing from Hayden and current and former CIA officers, the board issued a report that was critical of Goss, the source said.
The secrecy that shrouds the NSA has often kept bad news within the agency’s well-guarded corridors, although Hayden has been more willing than his predecessors to speak publicly about his agency’s work.
The son of a metalworker, Hayden grew up in Pittsburgh’s lower North Side, a middle-class section of the city made up of enclaves of Irish, Italians, Germans, Poles and Bohemians. In 1963, he graduated from North Catholic High School, one of two elite Catholic secondary schools in the city, said George Sprys, who taught history and supervised Hayden in the school’s United Nations and history clubs.
Hayden was an honor student, belonged to the Marian Spirit Club, and sometimes led the school in prayer, said Sprys, 86, adding, “He was a very modest nice little boy.”
Hayden then attended Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, where he earned a master’s degree in history, and then moved to the Air Force, where he focused on intelligence assignments. These included stints as chief of intelligence for the 8th Air Force in Guam and a similar position in South Korea. He also worked for the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, according to his official biography.
In 1980, Hayden attended the Defense Intelligence School and worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington. Stints at the Armed Forces Staff College and Air War College followed.
By this time, Hayden had a reputation for solid work. In 1989, he was appointed as the defense policy and arms control aide to the National Security Council under President George H.W. Bush, and he became director of the NSA under President Bill Clinton in 1999.
In his six-year tenure, he became the longest-serving director of the agency, which was founded in 1949.
(END OPTIONAL TRIM)
At the NSA, Hayden inherited an agency struggling to find a post-Cold War mission through a series of slim budgets, while it simultaneously raced to keep up with technical innovations.
To service the agency’s elaborate complex of computers and equipment, Hayden decided to contract out work that had been done in-house. A $2 billion contract for a program called Project Groundbreaker was awarded in 2001 to a group of defense and information-technology companies. A second outsourcing contract, Trailblazer, was awarded that same year to keep the NSA’s technology up to date.
Until those contracts, the work had been done by NSA employees.
“They took 1,000 people and pretty much said, “You’re now working for a contractor, unless you find another job within NSA,”‘ said Ira Winkler, a computer security specialist who worked at the NSA on cryptoanalysis and system design and security.
Winkler and other former NSA employees say the work done under these contracts has lagged. The Baltimore Sun reported in February that the $1 billion Trailblazer project, intended to help NSA analysts sift through the reams of information it collects each day, was still in the planning stages.
(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
Both programs are faltering, according to Russ Tice, a former NSA analyst who played a role in divulging the domestic eavesdropping program and who was fired by the agency.
“I saw the e-mails that said, “We’re pushing back the deadline for this or that,”‘ Tice said. “It was outrageous.”
Outside contractor support for NSA systems was so uneven, he added, that it took weeks to get a simple telephone fixed.
(END OPTIONAL TRIM)
It still remains unclear how directly involved Hayden was in devising and running the domestic spying initiatives, one of which the White House has dubbed the Terrorist Surveillance Program.
Odom, no fan of Hayden’s, called the domestic surveillance an “egregious” violation of the law. He said Hayden and his staff must have been involved in developing the spying programs, as White House officials would have no way of knowing of the NSA’s capabilities.
“This is so technical they’d have no way of understanding it,” Odom said. “His (Hayden’s) people thought it up, and found themselves getting into deep (trouble).”
Inman, though, like many in Congress, is a supporter of Hayden, and he puts the blame for the current controversy on the administration, which he said should have been more direct in seeking legislative changes to permit more aggressive surveillance.
“I think we have wasted five years in coming to grips with these problems,” Inman said. “9/11 should have told us we need to rethink the rules instead of doing it in response to bad publicity.”