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By happenstance, I found myself with a front-row seat watching how honor among these thieves played out, i.e., how the Washington Establishment generals and admirals cover for one other.
Admiral Inman's remarks at the New York Public Library had been written up by Steve Clemons in his blog, The Washington Note. Worse still for Hayden, DemocracyNow's Amy Goodman showed video clips of Inman's undisguised criticism of Gen. Hayden on the morning of May 17, 2006, less than a week before the Senate Intelligence Committee took up Hayden's nomination to be CIA director. Something needed to be done ... and quickly.
Specifically, Inman needed to be called to atone for his unspeakable sin of candor -- the more so since he enjoyed quasi-sainthood on both sides of the aisle in Congress. So there I sat on May 17 in the anteroom of the CNN/New York studio of Lou Dobbs, who wanted to talk to me about my mini-debate two weeks earlier with then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Iraq.
Into the waiting room rushed a breathless Bobby Ray Inman. I am then told that he has just been given part of my time, since he needed to discuss the nomination of Michael Hayden to head the CIA. I had read Steve Clemons's blog and was well aware of Inman's remarks on May 8, 2006.
As he rushed to don a borrowed tie, I had just enough time to give him an atta-boy for his honesty at the library and to express the hope he would stay on message with Lou Dobbs. NaÃ¯ve me!
Watching the monitor I saw Admiral Inman give his highest recommendation for Gen. Hayden as supremely qualified to head the CIA. That, I thought to myself, is how the system works. Hayden's nomination sailed through the Senate Intelligence Committee on May 23 by a vote of 12 to 3 and the full Senate on May 26 by 78 to 15.
A whiff of conscience showed through during Hayden's nomination hearing to become CIA director, though, when he flubbed the answer to what was supposed to be a soft, fat pitch from Bush administration loyalist, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Missouri, then vice-chair of the Senate intelligence overlook committee:
"Did you believe that your primary responsibility as director of NSA was to execute a program that your NSA lawyers, the Justice Department lawyers, and White House officials all told you was legal, and that you were ordered to carry it out by the President of the United States?"
Instead of the simple "Yes" that had been scripted, Hayden paused and spoke rather poignantly -- and revealingly: "I had to make this personal decision in early October 2001, and it was a personal decision ... I could not not do this."
Why should it have been such an enormous personal decision whether or not to obey a White House order? No one asked Hayden, but it requires no particular acuity to figure it out. This is a military officer who, like the rest of us, swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; a military man well aware that one must not obey an unlawful order; and an NSA director totally familiar with the FISA restrictions. That, it seems clear, is why Hayden found it a difficult personal decision.
Knowing the Law
No American, save perhaps Admiral Inman and Gen. Odom, knew the FISA law better than Hayden. Nonetheless, in his testimony, Hayden conceded that he did not even require a written legal opinion from NSA lawyers as to whether the new, post-9/11 comprehensive surveillance program -- to be implemented without court warrants, without "probable cause," and without adequate consultation in Congress -- could pass the smell test.
Hayden said he sought an oral opinion from then-NSA general counsel Robert L. Deitz, whom Hayden later brought over to CIA as a "trusted aide" to CIA Director Hayden! (In the fall of 2007, Hayden launched Deitz on an investigation of the CIA's own statutory Inspector General who had made the mistake of being too diligent in investigating abuses like torture.)
Interestingly, Hayden did not pass the smell test for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, who took a principled stand against his nomination and voted against it the following day. In his brief but typically eloquent one-minute speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Obama was harshly critical of both Hayden and President George W. Bush. Obama insisted that "President Bush is not above the law; no president is above the law." His words did not ring as hollow then as they do now in retrospect.
To his credit, I suppose, President-elect Obama did get rid of Hayden -- for cause, as I tried to explain in "What's CIA Director Hayden Hidin'" on Jan. 15, 2009. I ended that article with the following expression of good riddance: "The sooner Hayden is gone (likely to join the Fawning Corporate Media channels as an expert commentator, and to warm some seats on defense-industry corporate boards) the better. His credentials would appear good for that kind of work."