President Bush yesterday named Michael Hayden, a four-star air force general, to be the new director of the CIA, with the task of rebuilding the effectiveness and morale of the battered US spy agency.
General Hayden, a 30-year veteran of the intelligence world, is well regarded by both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. However, President Bush, who hit a new low of 31 per cent in a USA Today/Gallup poll yesterday, faces stiff opposition to his selection in some quarters.
General Hayden is expected to face tough questioning both for his military background and his role superintending the warrantless domestic eavesdropping programme by the ultra-secret National Security Agency, which he led between 1999 and 2005. But his confirmation by the Senate seemed in little doubt last night.
Since 2005 he has been deputy to John Negroponte, named last year as the new US intelligence "tsar" to co-ordinate the work of the country's 15 separate intelligence agencies. General Hayden's immediate task will be to reinvigorate the CIA, sapped by leak allegations and the loss of many senior officials who were dismissed or forced out by the previous director, Porter Goss. Mr Goss stepped down last week, under pressure from Mr Negroponte and fierce criticism on Capitol Hill.
Mr Negroponte said Stephen Kappes, the popular CIA deputy director of operations ousted in late 2004 by the incoming Goss team, would return to his old job under General Hayden. The new chief, however, will face familiar turf wars with Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon, which accounts for the lion's share of the estimated $40bn (£22bn) US intelligence budget.