The Senate Intelligence Committee strongly endorsed General Michael Hayden on Tuesday to be the next director of the CIA, with all but three members, all Democrats, voting to send Hayden's nomination to the Senate floor.
The panel's 12 to three vote virtually guarantees that Hayden will win confirmation by the full Senate, which is likely to vote on his selection before the end of the week.
With CIA Director Porter Goss planning to leave the agency on Friday, the White House had urged the Senate to move quickly on Hayden's confirmation. The vote on Tuesday came just 15 days after President George W. Bush nominated Hayden.
Four committee Democrats joined all eight Republican members in endorsing the general. Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican, who is the panel's chairman, called Hayden "a proven leader and a supremely qualified intelligence professional."
The committee's vice chairman, Senator Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat, said Hayden had shown "the necessary independence that is essential to restoring the CIA's credibility and stature."
The Democrats who voted against the nomination were Russell Feingold, Ron Wyden and Evan Bayh. Each cited concerns about Hayden's role in a controversial domestic surveillance program he ran while head of the National Security Agency (NSA).
"I am not convinced that the nominee respects the rule of law and Congress' oversight responsibilities," Feingold said.
During his confirmation hearings last week, Hayden drew sharp questions from several Democrats who raised concerns about the legality of the NSA program. Under the program, the agency monitors, without court warrants, the international telephone and e-mail communications of terror suspects in the US.
Committee members from both parties had also questioned whether Hayden, as a career military officer, might be beholden to the Pentagon at a time when the Defense Department was playing a greater role in intelligence gathering overseas.
Yet statements by committee members after the vote on Tuesday indicated that Hayden had dispelled this concern.
"He has shown some independence and some backbone and a willingness to say no to power," said Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat. "You've got to have someone in this position who speaks truth to power."
The departure of Goss, whom the White House had pressured to resign amid turf battles with National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, is expected to be accompanied by considerable turn-over throughout the CIA's senior ranks.
Goss' circle of advisers, many of whom the former Republican congressman brought with him from Capitol Hill, are expected to leave the agency. In addition, the agency's deputy director, Vice Admiral Albert Calland III, is expected to take a new military assignment.
Intelligence officials said that other senior members of Goss' team, including the heads of the Directorate of Intelligence and the Directorate of Science and Technology, had no plans to leave.