“America in the Age of Intelligence” with General Michael Hayden
Former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency General Michael Hayden was the distinguished guest speaker for the World Affairs Council’s public event, “American Intelligence in the Age of Terror”, held at Perkins Coie on March 15th. The morning event was moderated by World Affairs Council President & CEO Jacqueline Miller, and was part of the Council’s Thought Leader Series sponsored by Holland America Line. The conversation dove right into the hot-button intelligence issues, largely hinging around the difficulty for the U.S. intelligence community (IC) to strike a balance between the issues of privacy vs. security, and determining where to draw the line.
“Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror” is the title of General Hayden’s autobiography and speaks to the necessity of the IC to use all available methods to ensure national security while staying within lawful limits. The title is a sports metaphor, which compares the IC to a winning NFL team. In General Hayden’s words “a good NFL team uses every inch of the playing field in order to get the job done- a good team doesn’t hang back on the sidelines”. The General explained that while the lines of a football team are static, the lines that determine the boundaries of the IC are more fluid and derive from the American political process.
On September 11th the lines determining the boundaries of the IC were redrawn from within the community and the U.S. government itself to ensure national security. When elements of these controversial programs – such as collecting of metadata and interrogation techniques- were declassified years later, it added to a growing distrust between the American public and the IC. The American public largely felt the IC had gone too far without Congressional oversight. In response to criticisms of the sweeping measures the IC took from within to acclimate to America’s war on terror the General stated, “We go all the way to the edges of the field. We get chalk dust on our cleats, we get so close to the lines, If we stayed back, we’d save ourselves some ugly Congressional hearings, but we wouldn’t be defending you, we’d be defending the agency. When operational circumstances demand it, you use the entire field.”
Wikileaks continually abets the growing distrust between the IC and the American public evidenced by the reactions to the Snowden leaks and the recent leak of CIA program “Vault 7” ; Vault 7 is the CIA hacking program that utilizes personal digital devices for surveillance purposes. Consistent with the IC’s ongoing frustration with the leaks, the General explained that the IC’s need to keep secrets is paramount to its ability to do their job – keeping Americans safe. As a caveat, he noted that while collecting metadata is necessary in today’s digital age, the IC shouldn’t be collecting data they cannot keep safe as it could be even more dangerous in the wrong hands. However, he assured attendees that metadata collection and using digital devices in the digital age is both necessary and shouldn’t alarm the American public. In his words, “This shouldn’t frighten you. Good and bad people use the same communication systems- the same encryption processes. They can’t do their job unless the can use the same tools as the bad guys.”
General Hayden explained that these lines determining the lawful limits of IC practices and programs are constantly shifting in order to adjust to the current threats on national security. During the question and answer period one attendee asked the General if there was anyone who is playing the devil’s advocate within the IC and asking the question, “yes we can do this, but will it really make us safer?” Just as these programs and practices seemed to escalate directly following September 11th, the General wanted to make it clear that the more drastic programs and methods were reigned in when the threat levels on national security lessened. General Hayden became director of the CIA in 2006, when almost but not all of the contentious detention centers and interrogation techniques were already in place. After careful evaluation of these programs and interrogation practices, the General made the decision to readjust the boundaries of the IC, “I determined changes needed to be made. I stated that we needed to be tough, but less tough… as circumstances had changed since the immediate aftermath of Sep 11. We had a better idea and intel on al Qaeda.” The General made it abundantly clear that he was not condemning the measures taken by his predecessor George Tenet, but that changes were necessary in light of a decrease in national security threats.
The changes General Hayden ordered included emptying the “black-sites” which held prisoners indefinitely, and narrowing the list of 13 approved interrogation techniques down to 6. Additionally, General Hayden encouraged President Bush to provide Americans with more information on CIA programs and techniques. While unapologetic, the General noted that if he could have changed one thing during his tenure as CIA director, “we should have been more open earlier with [the public]. I think that would have given us more legitimacy and validation, and equally important, it would have been more difficult to people to politically exploit something that was being done on their behalf.”
Ms. Miller’s last question to the General highlighted the inherent struggle between the First Amendment and the IC’s need for secrecy. Ms. Miller asked the General, “You say in the book that the first amendment is a cornerstone of American democracy, but that intel guys like you want to keep more secret than you probably should. How do you strike the balance between upholding first amendment rights and the government’s need to keep things secret?” The General explained there is no static balance point, but that it is an evolving process. He acknowledged that the press has their job, and the IC has theirs, and by nature their instincts and incentives are in constant competition.
Following the moderated discussion, the floor was opened for attendees to ask the General questions on topics ranging from President Trump’s relationship with the IC to the military stalemate in Afghanistan to China’s calculus on North Korea. Third Place Books provided copies of General Hayden’s recently released autobiography for purchase and the General graciously signed copies directly following the event.