In an in-depth interview published exclusively today on its website, former CIA Director Michael Hayden (2006 – 2009) made a number of newsworthy observations. Hayden is a retired Air Force four-star general and previously served as Director of the National Security Agency.
When he met with his successor, former Rep. Leon Panetta (D-CA), General Hayden said, “‘You’re inheriting the best leadership team in the federal government. If you give them half a chance, they will not let you fail, the way they would not let me fail.’ The people that I had at the Agency were the best support system I’ve ever had.” His key points were:
- I am most proud of taking the fight to the nation’s enemies. Classification concerns prevent a lot of fine print on that, but I’ve said publicly, we gave President Bush a list of people we were most mad at, in the tribal region of Pakistan, in July 2008.
By the time I left office, more than a dozen of those people were dead. There’s a reason why the country has been protected, and the Agency doesn’t get enough credit for it. What the Agency did to dismantle the al-Qaeda leadership, I’m most proud of that. . .
It’s a very good agency, and it really did a lot of things to make America safe. There are so many phony urban legends out there about the Agency including the criticism that we constantly undercut presidential policy by cooking intelligence estimates and then leaking them. They’re all outrageous.
- Waterboarding worked and we did indeed get life-saving intelligence out of it. So the point I would make to folks who say, ‘I don’t want you doing this, and it doesn’t work anyway,’ I would point out, Whoa. Stop. The front half of that sentence, you can say; that’s yours, you own that, ‘I don’t want you doing it.’ The back half of that sentence is not yours. That’s mine. The fact is it did work.
- Very often the news media would act responsibly. I think the December 2005 New York Times story on the terrorist surveillance program was irresponsible. Even the New York Times’ public editor thought their [June 2006] story on the SWIFT program for accessing international financial data was irresponsible.
Hayden emphasized that waterboarding is not fatal, nor is it meant to be. It is designed to be a non-lethal, extremely uncomfortable procedure that pushes the detainee to divulge information. After waterboarding the detainees cooperate without feeling guilty.
Hayden decided to expose North Korea’s role in the construction of a nuclear reactor in Syria and explained it by saying: “With the North Koreans we were moving in the direction of a new arrangement with regard to things ‘nuclear,’ including proliferation. We knew the North Koreans had done this very egregious thing” which “would undercut the confidence in the treaty. The imperative to make it public was growing over time, as we were getting closer to a firm agreement. . .
“I think the lines crossed about the first of the year—remember the reactor was discovered in April 2007 and destroyed in September of that year. By about December or January of 2008, the Agency became very strong advocates for making it public.”