WASHINGTON – The Senate on Friday confirmed Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden as CIA chief, the first active-duty or retired military officer to be director of the civilian intelligence agency in 25 years.
Hayden was approved by a vote of 78-15.
Hayden, 61, is a four-star general and until the confirmation, was the top deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.
President Bush issued a statement shortly after the confirmation, calling Hayden "a patriot and a dedicated public servant."
"I commend the Senate for confirming Michael Hayden as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency by a bipartisan majority. Winning the War on Terror requires that America have the best intelligence possible, and his strong leadership will ensure that we do," Bush said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee applauded the confirmation and the nominee in a statement he released on Friday
"This is a critical time for the CIA, and it's vital that the agency have strong, experienced leaders such as General Hayden to provide steady guidance as we forge ahead in the War on Terror. With 20 years of experience in the intelligence community, he is the right man for the job," Frist said.
"He's made clear his interest in an open and honest relationship with Congress and his respect for our oversight role. I have every confidence he will serve our nation well as CIA director, and I look forward to working with him," Frist said.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, in a statement, said Hayden has "impeccable credentials" and is "more than qualified for the job," but pointed to a history of problems with the agency he will take over and took a swipe at the administration's overall handling of intelligence.
"I am hopeful General Hayden will provide the CIA the kind of non-partisan leadership it has sorely lacked for the past several years. And I am also hopeful that this nomination signifies that the Bush Administration has recognized, finally, that professionals, not partisans should be put in charge of national security," Reid said.
Both Frist and Reid voted in favor of Hayden.
At his confirmation hearing, Hayden sought to assure senators that he would be independent from the Pentagon but said he would consider how his uniform affects his relationship with CIA personnel. If it were to get in the way, he said, "I'll make the right decision."
Hayden became a lightning rod for the debate about the Bush administration's surveillance program that monitors domestic communications — without court approval — when one party is overseas and terrorism is suspected. Some Democrats and civil-liberties advocates argue the monitoring was illegal.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the warrentless wiretapping program raised "serious questions about whether the general is the right person to lead the CIA, serious questions about whether the general will continue to be an administration cheerleader, serious questions about his credibility."
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., countered that Hayden "is eminently qualified" to lead the agency and that "he is the right choice to lead the CIA."
As head of the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005, Hayden oversaw the groundbreaking operations, but his defenders have said repeatedly that he was relying on the advice of top government lawyers.
The White House hurried Hayden's nomination through in only 17 days, in part by heeding Congress' five-month-old requests for more information on the classified operations.
But President Bush's selection of Hayden exposed fissures among Republicans who say the administration is making decisions without consulting Congress.
"That's the way they decided to do business," House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said in an interview Thursday. "The problem is there are major changes going on in the intelligence community, and the executive branch is doing it on their own."
Hoekstra said a military official shouldn't be in charge of the CIA, but he planned to look ahead and learn more about Hayden's vision for the agency. Hoekstra also said he would use every tool available to Congress — including the power of the purse — to ensure he has a voice in the intelligence reforms.
Hoekstra is among Republicans close to outgoing CIA Director Porter Goss who are angry that the Bush administration dismissed him suddenly from the post. "It was a very ungracious exit for a very gracious man," Hoekstra said of Goss, the former House Intelligence Committee chairman who had a 40-year career in government.
At his confirmation hearing, Hayden said he wants to encourage the CIA's clandestine service to take more risks, expand how the CIA shares information with allied intelligence services and encourage the CIA's analysts to make hard-edge assessments.
Hayden said he wants the CIA out of the news — "as source or subject" — but also wants to win back public confidence in America's best-known spy agency.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.