February 25, 1999
General Named To Head NSA
Air Force's Hayden Faces Big Challenges
By Vernon Loeb, Washington Post Staff Writer
President Clinton has nominated Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, a veteran intelligence officer with a background in information warfare and defense policy analysis, as the next director of the supersecret National Security Agency.
Hayden's nomination, which requires Senate confirmation, comes at a critical juncture at the NSA. The nation's vast electronic eavesdropping and code-breaking organization faces technological challenges from encryption technology, fiber-optic cables and digital cellular telephones.
Hayden, 52, deputy chief of staff for the United Nations Command in Korea, has spent years preparing for the plum intelligence post, which is second in stature only to that of director of central intelligence. Before his current duties overseeing military negotiations with the North Koreans at Panmunjom, Hayden commanded Air Force intelligence and ran the Joint Command and Control Warfare Center at Kelly Air Force Base in Texas.
He also was director of defense policy and arms control at the National Security Council in the Bush administration.
A congressional source who monitors the intelligence community said Hayden has a reputation for good personal skills. "He knows how to get along; he knows how to get his way without breaking too much china," the source said.
One intelligence official, who has worked with Hayden in the past, said Hayden "understands what the customers of NSA want, he understands the demands the policymakers have, and he understands the challenges the NSA faces."
Access to the world's electronic communications, the congressional source said, becomes more and more difficult as proliferating encryption technology makes digital telephone conversations and electronic computer traffic harder to decode.
"They have many acres of Cray computers up there," the source said, referring to the NSA's sprawling headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. "But if the encryption is good, you're not going to break it."
James Bamford, author of "The Puzzle Palace," a groundbreaking book on the NSA, said the agency also is threatened by the advent of fiber-optic cable. Not long ago, he said, most telephone communications between the United States and Europe traveled via satellite, making it easy for the NSA to intercept the signals at listening stations all over the world. But now, Bamford said, most of that traffic travels along fiber-optic cables under the ocean, which are difficult to tap.
The advent of digital cellular telephones, he said, is equally problematic, forcing NSA technicians to unscramble calls they had been able to pick up with simple antennas.
Proliferating targets, added John Pike, an intelligence expert at the Federation of American Scientists, make the new technological challenges even harder to cope with. "With the priority on drugs and thugs and terrorists," he said, "you've got to read everything."
And if all that weren't enough, intelligence experts say, Hayden also will have to make sweeping changes in the NSA's Cold War-era work force, which is long on Russian linguists and short on young college graduates with cutting-edge computer skills.
"The sorts of people they have working there aren't really the people they need, in large part," the congressional source said.
But Hayden, the source added, won't have to spend his first weeks and months on the job convincing Congress that the NSA is in tough straits and needs a substantial infusion of capital. Congress has already committed hundreds of millions of dollars this fiscal year for new technology at Fort Meade.