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Published: Wednesday, 5/10/2006

The CIA's general

THE proposed replacement of Porter Goss by Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, the president's nominee as the new director of the CIA, promises to be a dramatic, potentially enlightening process.

The naming of Mr. Goss, previously a mediocre Republican congressman from Florida, to head the CIA raised some eyebrows in 2004, although Congress shooed him through the confirmation process painlessly, in part, as a courtesy to a member.

His mission at the agency was to restore morale and effectiveness in the wake of a series of major failures under his predecessor, George J. Tenet. These had included missing the run-up to the 9/11 attacks and either misreading or letting the Bush Administration get away with spinning the intelligence on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction and its nonexistent ties to al-Qaeda.

Mr. Goss has basically left the CIA as he found it, demoralized and still ineffective. The administration is claiming that President Bush realized Mr. Goss's inadequacies shortly after he was put in place. If that's so, why did Americans have to wait 19 months to see him out the door?

Once Mr. Goss' resignation was announced last Friday, rumors began swirling in Washington that Mr. Bush intended to replace him with General Hayden, the principal deputy director of national intelligence.

General Hayden was previously director of the National Security Agency, responsible for surveillance of thousands of American citizens and others without the court orders required to make it legal.

The Sunday morning talk shows, a febrile stew of early opinion on such topics, provided a forum for various political figures, including some senior Republicans in Congress, to express the view that General Hayden was not an appropriate appointment to head the CIA.

That is a position that has usually been held by a civilian, to balance the military influence in national security decision-making in government.

As it stands, the U.S. government is already too heavily militarized, soaking up not only an annual $460 billion, but it's also about to get most of another $109 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In spite of the pre-nomination negative comment that General Hayden attracted, Mr. Bush nonetheless proceeded to put him forward for the job.

Republican and Democratic objections to the appointment are valid; the post should be occupied, as it has through most of the CIA's history, by a civilian.

At least the general's confirmation hearings will provide senators with an excellent opportunity to probe Mr. Bush's domestic and foreign wiretapping program in public, in as much depth as they like.

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