Paul Greenberg

Some of the honorables in Congress are shocked - shocked! - that George W. Bush would nominate a military man to head the Central Intelligence Agency. To quote Saxby Chambliss, a Republican congressman from Georgia, Gen. Michael Hayden's military background would be a "major problem."

How's that again? Wasn't Stansfield Turner, an admiral, head of the CIA back in the Carter administration? Indeed, at last count, 13 of the 19 directors of the agency had served in the military at some time before their appointment. In the agency's early days, it was almost assumed a military man would head it.

A few of us are old enough to vaguely remember names like Walter Bedell Smith, Hoyt Vandenberg, Roscoe Hillenkoetter, and Sidney Souers, generals or admirals all, not to mention the day the wheel was invented . . . .

This four-star, Michael Hayden, comes out of the Air Force, where he developed an interest in intelligence work, and went on to head the National Security Agency; he hasn't worked at the Pentagon since 1999. It was John McCain, the senator from Arizona, who noted that by now Michael Hayden is more of a spook-in-chief than a military man. But whatever his assignment, he's done a heckuva job at it.

That doesn't mean the usual rock-chunkers in Congress won't do everything they can to derail Gen. Hayden's nomination. His greatest accomplishment may have been to oversee the development of a sophisticated computerized databank that's designed to spot and monitor international calls from al-Qaida suspects overseas to contacts in this country. Naturally he's been bitterly criticized for it, along with his commander-in-chief.

By authorizing such a program, it's said, George W. Bush has been undermining our liberties rather than protecting them against terrorists who care nothing about our laws except how to take advantage of them. Apparently we are supposed to sit back and let them do just that.

It's the familiar old Constitution-as-suicide-pact theory of law, which has been used against every administration serious about holding the country together since Mr. Lincoln's.

Henry Stinson would understand the objections to the general's appointment. He was Herbert Hoover's secretary of state in 1929 when he learned that American cryptographers had deciphered Japan's diplomatic cables. "Gentlemen," he harrumphed, "do not read each other's mail." And he shut down the whole, code-breaking operation. Brilliant.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.