A welder's job is to put things together--hard, metal things that have to be melted and manipulated in order to be fused into something useful, like a pipeline, or a bridge. So maybe it was from his father, a welder in Pittsburgh, Pa., that General Michael Hayden long ago acquired the tools that made him one of the pre-eminent intelligence players in Washington. His great talent is the briefing, when he sits down in secret sessions with leaders in Congress who don't always know much about intelligence analysis, and he shows how the pieces fit together, explains how things work, lays the pipe, builds the bridge.
"He speaks in lucid, well-constructed sentences," observes former Senator Bob Graham, who was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee until 2003. "And then he pauses as if to give the listener a chance to assimilate what he has just said." It is clear when Hayden goes to Capitol Hill that he has studied his audience carefully. "He's a great PowerPoint briefer, and he speaks at their level," says a congressional intelligence staffer who has seen the general in action with lawmakers. "He has that wonderful quality of being quite likable and unpretentious. And he would work those members assiduously." In fact, he was credited with so effectively defending the National Security Agency's no-warrant wiretapping program after it was exposed in December that he helped turn a simmering scandal into a political win for the Administration--to a degree that President George W. Bush might have hoped for another assist when he nominated Hayden to replace Porter Goss as CIA director. "In personal appearance, [Hayden] kind of invites you to underestimate him," says a former national-security official who knows him. "Do not underestimate this guy."
Hayden is the rare officer who managed to earn four stars in the course of a career in military intelligence. A blue-collar kid who drove a taxi to help pay his way through college before joining the Air Force, his first job in 1970 was as an analyst and briefer at the Strategic Air Command in Nebraska. He worked in intelligence in Germany during the Balkans war and in South Korea, and at the National Security Council with Condoleezza Rice during the first Bush Administration. As NSA director, he sometimes dropped in on CIA station chiefs in embassies overseas but without the usual retinue of aides. He was "very low key," says a former senior CIA officer.