WASHINGTON – President Bush on Monday announced he is nominating Gen. Michael Hayden as the next CIA director.
"Mike Hayden is supremely qualified for this position," Bush said from the Oval Office. "Mike has more than 20 years of experience in the intelligence field. He served six years as director of the National Security Agency and thus brings vast experience leading a major intelligence agency to his new assignment.
"Mike knows our intelligence community from the ground up. He is both a provider and consumer of intelligence," Bush said.
Hayden, who has been serving under Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte for the last year, said getting intelligence right at the CIA is the crucial challenge.
"There's probably no post more important in preserving our security and our values as a people than the head of the Central Intelligence Agency," Hayden said, adding that he has succeeded in his current post due to help from Porter Goss, who resigned as CIA director on Friday, and George Tenet, who preceded Goss.
"Both of those men befriended me, mentored me and supported me. ... If I am confirmed [by the Senate], I know that I will be standing on their shoulders," Hayden said.
Known to do battle in defense of the positions he holds, Hayden may need that quality as the 61-year-old Air Force general goes up against a leery Senate tasked with confirming a CIA chief.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the Judiciary Committee chairman, told "FOX News Sunday" the Senate may use its role in the nomination process as "leverage" to learn more about the president's decision to allow the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless wiretaps of people in the United States who had conversations with suspected terrorists abroad.
Hayden was head of the NSA during the wiretapping of international calls and e-mails. The New York Times disclosed the program in December, triggering an uproar over its legality.
Said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.: "Sen. Specter and I, with his lead, have been trying to figure out what Hayden has actually been doing in those wiretaps, and it may give us an opportunity to figure out what the program actually is."
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told FOX News the current deputy director of national intelligence is ready for the interrogation.
"You know, the president believes that the terrorist surveillance program is a critical element of defending this country against terrorist attack, and who better to answer those questions than Mike Hayden, who has been intimately involved in that program?" Hadley asked.
Since the program's exposure, Hayden hasn't backed off defending his former agency's surveillance.
"These are communications that we have reason to believe are Al Qaeda communications, a judgment made by American intelligence professionals, not folks like me or political appointees," he said in a speech at the National Press Club right after the story broke in December.
"So let me make this clear: When you're talking to your daughter at state college, this program cannot intercept your conversations. And when she takes a semester abroad to complete her Arabic studies, this program will not intercept your communications," Hayden said at the time.
On Monday, he said he looks forward to meeting with senators.
"This is simply too important not to get absolutely right," he said.
Hayden ran the NSA from 1999 until last year, when he joined Negroponte, whose job is to oversee the CIA and 15 other intelligence agencies. With his vast authority and close contacts with members of Congress, Hayden has earned praise and criticism, often from the same individual.
"I think he is part of the White House spin machine on the NSA program," said California Rep. Jane Harman, who has known Hayden for years and is the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Hayden's nomination stirred lawmakers, who suggested in Sunday news shows that the general may not be the best choice for the job.
Hayden would be "the wrong person, the wrong place at the wrong time," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Hoekstra said he thinks Hayden is a very capable person, but his history as professional military would cast a dark shadow on the intelligence agency.
"There is ongoing tensions between this premiere civilian intelligence agency and DOD as we speak," Hoekstra said, adding that Hayden is inexorably linked to the Department of Defense.
"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."
"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."
But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former Navy pilot, said other military members have been head of the CIA, a position that he called "the toughest job in Washington."
"This is a very important and key post and I hope [lawmakers] will recognize that Gen. Hayden is a very qualified individual and he is the president's selection," McCain said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"Gen. Hayden is more of an intelligence person than he is an Air Force officer."
Sen. Pat Roberts, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee that will run the confirmation hearing, said for those concerned about Hayden's role in the military, "all he has to do is take off the stars."
"He has served in a diplomatic post, and I think in sort of a paradox of enormous irony — here's a guy who knows more about intelligence, and everybody understands that in Washington because he has debriefed everybody here on all sorts of committees," Roberts, R-Kan., told FOX News.
"People have different views about the issues that he has debriefed them on, but here is a guy that has more expertise, and yet, because he wears the uniform, that may not be the way to go," he said.
Added Hadley: "Mike Hayden is not just a military officer. He's got broad experience. ... He has shown he can be an agent for change and he is committed to the president's agenda. He is the best person to take this job."
Negroponte said Hayden's military status is irrelevant.
"I believe the president has selected the best person, civilian or military, to lead this agency, period," Negroponte told White House reporters. "His expertise is by no means limited to technical aspects of intelligence. ... He was instrumental in the creation of the national clandestine service, which he will lead as CIA director."
Five military men have been head of CIA, including retired Adm. Stansfield Turner, who headed the CIA during the Carter administration. He said he did not think Hayden was a good choice.
"I happen to think not because I happen to think the wiretapping was illegal and we need to clarify that for the whole American public, and the debate of his nomination will do that, I believe," Turner said on CBS' "The Early Show."
To balance the CIA between military and civilian leadership, the White House plans to move aside the agency's No. 2 official, Vice Adm. Albert Calland III, who took over as deputy director less than a year ago, two senior administration officials said. Other personnel changes also are likely, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the changes are not ready to be announced.
Among other concerns for the new CIA director is the morale of CIA agents and staff. Bush said Goss did a lot to increase the number of operatives and sources in the field and build "the agency's analytical capabilities so the hardworking men and women of the CIA have the resources they need to penetrate closed societies and secretive organizations.
"Porter took on a critical job at a critical moment in our nation's history. He instilled a sense of professionalism in the CIA and maintained the high standards of this vital agency at a time of transition and transformation," Bush said.
"I'm confident that Mike Hayden will continue the reforms that Porter has put in place and provide outstanding leadership to meet the challenges and threats of a dangerous new century."
Hayden, too, said he wanted to build the morale at the spy agency.
"To the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency: If I'm confirmed, I would be honored to join you and work with so many good friends. Your achievements are frequently underappreciated and hidden from the public eye, but you know what you do to protect the republic," Hayden said.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., said some very relevant objections have been made about Hayden, but he has worked with the general before and he is the right person for the job.
"One of the things you have to look at when you're leading an agency is administrative experience and he has that," Ruppersberger said. In addition, "Gen. Hayden has shown his independence" by standing up to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others who did not want to implement the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations to create a director of national intelligence.
Harman agreed that Hayden has done an excellent job in his briefings. She said he also has a soft side — Hayden loves Shakespeare and, with their spouses, they attended a play at Washington's Shakespeare Theater.
Hayden had a blue-collar upbringing in Pittsburgh. There was his father's work at a manufacturing company; his brother's employment as a truck driver; Hayden's part-time job as a cabbie to make ends meet after earning bachelor's and master's degrees in history from Duquesne University. He had Air Force assignments in Bulgaria, South Korea and Germany.
Hayden has shown he is not likely to shy away from difficult situations.
Matthew Aid, a historian who is writing a book on the NSA, said when a deputy director resisted change at the agency, Hayden sent her to London to fill a liaison job with the British.
Hayden's public defense of the warrantless surveillance program showed his aggressiveness and his ability to dispense with a general's jargon.
Even critics of the surveillance praise his clarity. For them, the problem is in the message.
"He can be an SOB if he wants to be," said Aid, a historian working at the private National Security Archive who is writing a book on the NSA.
Aid said Hayden's transfer of the deputy to London came about because the subordinate was leading the opposition to changing the NSA — from a Cold War agency that intercepted radio communications to one that lives in the world of the Internet and cell phones.
"He didn't say 'You guys are the veterans here, you run the place," Aid said. "He said, 'You're for us or against us.' Those who stood with the deputy retired or got kicked sideways."
James Bamford, who has written two books on the NSA, said if Hayden gets the CIA job, he once again would have to overhaul an intelligence agency that has low morale and is trying to find its place in the fight against terrorism.
FOX News' Carl Cameron and The Associated Press contributed to this report.