WASHINGTON – It’s not a secret: the top two U.S. spies are offering to stay on for at least a while under president-elect Barack Obama.
What remains a mystery, however, is whether the offer by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden, will be accepted, given their identification with controversial Bush administration policies on electronic spying and treatment of terrorism suspects.
The Washington Post reported this week that McConnell and Hayden expected to be replaced early in the Obama administration.
McConnell — who gave Obama his first full intelligence briefing last week — told an awards ceremony in Washington on Wednesday that U.S. spy agencies would be in good hands under “the new guys.”
“Universally, very-well informed people, very smart, very strategic,” is how he described Obama’s team. “All the signs, at the moment, are positive,” he said.
Then came the pitch: “The message that both General Hayden and I have delivered to the incoming administration is, we view ourselves as professionals — as apolitical professionals — and we are available to serve at the pleasure of the president,” McConnell said.
“If they ask us to stay for some reason, for a period of time, we would stay and assist them in the transition,” he said.
“If they choose others, that’s fine, we’re happy with that; we have other things to do,” he said.
McConnell’s position as the U.S. spy chief is new, created under a post-Sept. 11 intelligence reorganization, and like other political jobs has no fixed term. There is, however, some precedent for CIA directors to serve overlapping administrations. George Tenet, a Bill Clinton appointee, remained in office under President George W. Bush until 2004.
Hayden has said little about his plans, but also noted in a letter to employees last week that he serves at the pleasure of the president.
The Post said influential congressional Democrats opposed McConnell and Hayden’s staying on because they publicly backed Bush policies on interrogation and electronic surveillance.
It said, however, other Democrats and many intelligence experts gave high marks to the intelligence leaders for restoring stability and professionalism, and that the Obama camp had given no signs of its plans.
McConnell said the Post article had an “alarming headline” but delivered a “reasonable message.”
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Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (McConnell, left, and Hayden at a Senate panel hearing Feb. 5)