Bobby Ray Inman is likely to face questions about an associate convicted of arms smuggling to South Africa.
Inman is expected to be confirmed as secretary of defense with little opposition, but Senate hearings could focus attention on his secret ties to the convicted businessman during his stints as head of the National Security Agency and deputy director of the CIA in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Inman has acknowledged having worked secretly with defense contractor James Guerin.
Guerin is serving 15 years in prison for smuggling $50-million in weapons to South Africa and masterminding a $1.14-billion fraud within his company.
Inman served on a special "proxy board" of the company that Guerin founded, International Signal & Control Corp of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The board was set up so that ISC could handle classified U.S. defense work.
Last year, Inman sought sentencing leniency for Guerin, who is also alleged to have sold missile technology to Iraq, according to a 1989 Washington Post report.
In an April 27, 1992, letter to Chief Judge Louis Bechtle of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Inman called Guerin a patriot and said he had worked in the mid-1970s with U.S. intelligence agencies.
Inman told reporters Thursday he would not comment publicly on any matters until his confirmation hearing next year.