WASHINGTON – Air Force General Michael Hayden has the support of the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, but some senators who met with the CIA director nominee on Tuesday say they are still concerned about Hayden keeping his military commission.
They suggest hanging up his stripes could clear up a lot of the concern that the spy agency would be usurped by the military if Hayden were given the top post there.
"I think that would take care of that issue. I think he can be a standup person, but I understand the concern about the uniform, particularly with the encroachment of defense on intelligence as it is. I think you need someone who is free of that," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a member of the committee that will be handling Hayden's confirmation hearing.
"The problem is the mindset. Mike has been used to working under the leadership of the Department of Defense for 24 years, I think, most of that in the intelligence world. That role, that mission is somewhat different at the CIA then it is at the DoD," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who also serves on the intelligence panel.
In his first day since being named President Bush's pick for the top post at the Central Intelligence Agency, Hayden visited with several senators who will vote on his confirmation. But during none of those stops was the four-star general ready to say whether he will retire from the military in order to get the job as head of the civilian spy agency.
"I don't want to get that far ahead. Let me listen to folks," Hayden said.
While Hayden has told colleagues he does not intend give up his uniform, White House officials emphasized it has not been ruled out.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denied that the Pentagon is trying to swallow the CIA, and called press reports about turf wars, "unimpressive, baseless conspiracy theories." He added that intelligence reform is an ongoing "collegial process" aimed at finding the best and fastest ways to collect and share information for national security.
"There's no power play taking place in Washington. People can run around and find somebody who will tell them almost anything, but it's interesting how little facts ever get attached to any of these thumb suckers that get printed in the press," Rumsfeld said.
That too was the argument of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, who on Monday called the claims of turf battles "unfounded concerns."
"I don't think this concern is well-founded. Obviously, we have to work together with the military. The watchword for intelligence reform, after all, is integration," Negroponte said.
Chambliss explained that the military from whence Hayden comes collects and requires real-time battlefield intelligence while the CIA gathers information and penetrates organizations for longer term security purposes. Concerns have been articulated that a military-led CIA would concentrate more on the short-term intelligence goals, limiting the big picture information collection that is needed to ward off future threats.
In an effort to appease those who are concerned about a military takeover of the CIA, Negroponte suggested that Steve Kappes, a civilian operations officer, who left when former CIA Director Porter Goss began leading the agency in 2004, could be tapped for the No. 2 post under Hayden.
Kappes could be the solution to the military-civilian leadership challenge at the CIA, which traditionally has had a member of the military in one of the top two spots while a civilian held the other post. The deputy director position reportedly has already been offered to Kappes, who is said to be interested in returning to the agency now that Goss is out.
"As you may know, [Kappes] is currently retired from the CIA but was one of their leading case officers and a leading member of their clandestine service. So I think his skill sets together with General Hayden's background will form a very nice balance, if you will, of the leadership team at the CIA," Negroponte said.
Even for those concerned about a military man in the top role, backers say Hayden still has to report to Negroponte, who is a civilian.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has already pledged his support for Hayden, insisting that the general's military job is an asset he should keep.
"I think that's a huge benefit, a huge advantage, and as I've talked to my constituents around the country and in Tennessee, they look upon that as a great strength," said Frist, who was one of the senators who met with Hayden on Tuesday.
Frist said Hayden's confirmation hearing will begin this month but may not lead to a vote before Memorial Day. That's not soon enough for administration officials who say they want Hayden confirmed before Goss makes his formal departure in three weeks.
FOX News' Carl Cameron contributed to this report.