January 21, 2009
Fox Correspondent Catherine Herridge interviewed CIA Director Mike Hayden on January 15, 2009. Below is the transcript of the interview.
HERRIDGE: Earlier today, Eric Holder said waterboarding amounted to torture. What is your response?
HAYDEN: The question of waterboarding is kind of an uninteresting question for CIA. It’s not something we have done for nearly six years now. We’ve made very public that it was done on three individuals. We don’t plan to do it. We have not asked for a legal opinion about it, in the post-Hamdan, post-Military Commissions Act, post-Detainee Treatment Act environment. I’ve seen the same news reports about what Mr. Holder said, but again, an uninteresting question for the current operations of CIA.
HERRIDGE: One of the sort of suggestions in that question is that there may be an effort to prosecute people who were involved in the enhanced interrogation techniques. And you said you were very heartened by some comments that the President-elect had made.
HAYDEN: Right. He had a chance this past weekend, in responding to some questions, to talk about looking forward and looking backward. And I think he was quite appropriately -- and certainly very heartening to this Agency – talking about looking forward. Catherine, look at the circumstances. The Agency was asked to do certain things. The Agency, in a sense, was thrown into the breach, when it comes to interrogating Al-Qaida. There was overall agreement that the nation was at great risk. There was overall agreement that these techniques would work. And they did. Now, honest men can differ about whether or not they wanted to do this or not, but you can’t dismiss the fact that the techniques worked and led to critical, life-saving information. So the Agency stepped up. But it stepped up out of a sense of duty, not out of enthusiasm. So to take Agency officers who have been asked or directed to do something that they know is operationally effective, that is within the capabilities of the Agency, and which the defining legal authority in the country – the Department of Justice – says was legal, I think you run a great risk now going backwards and pulling those through any kind of knothole. In the future, future Presidents are going to ask this Agency to do similar things – similar in terms of context – things that are operationally effective, things which the Agency has the capacity to do, and things that the Justice Department says are legal. I think it harms the safety of the Republic to teach this Agency’s officers that they need to bring other considerations now into their calculus, before they accept these kinds of directions. I just think it would be very unfair, and it also would hurt the effectiveness of what this Agency contributes to American security.
HERRIDGE: Mr. Obama’s comments really suggested to you that he was not going to preoccupy himself with looking backward….
HAYDEN: That was my read on it. And of course, the interviewer was, I think, pretty aggressive in terms of trying to put him into the position where he might say this was black or white. And the I think the President-elect….and again, I think the workforce out here was very heartened by his emphasis on looking forward.
HERRIDGE: You had your own meeting with President-elect Obama in Chicago, you said. Was that, sort of, the gist of that conversation? Or if you had to describe it….
HAYDEN: No. No, what we did was kind of a soup-to-nuts. We covered the Agency’s covert action activities. And obviously I’m not going to be able to get into any detail about that. But in essence, the Agency is the action arm of the President. We operate on the farthest regions of executive authority, within the provisions of law by informing Congress and so on. But in essence, we are in the Executive Branch, and we get these directions from the President. But they come from the office of the President, and then therefore the President-elect needed to be aware of what it was the Agency was about, and what it was the Agency had been directed to do, so that he could make any judgments that he felt were necessary before [January] 20th.
HERRIDGE: You said in the [earlier] discussion that the Army Field Manual…that it was really not appropriate to use that as a model for your Agency and interrogations. Can you take me through that?
HAYDEN: Sure. The Army Field Manual was designed for certain purposes, and certain skills and certain circumstances. It was designed for a certain kind of detainee, it was designed for a certain kind of interrogator, it was designed to elicit or induce certain kinds of information. If the nation decides that is what it wants to be its limits, it really has to give us that direction in some sort of authoritative statement – an executive order or legislation. But before we did that, I think the nation needs to understand that no one claims that the Army Field Manual exhausts the universe of lawful interrogation techniques. And so I think there is some merit in having a discussion, as we look at what the Army Field Manual is and what the larger universe is – and if we decide that, “Outside the Army Field Manual is lawful but I still don’t want to do it,” or, “Outside the Field Manual, lawful, I think we ought to consider it.” But that is a logical dialogue. That is what I think we should do. Now, to emphasize something. The Agency will do what it is told. It will respect the limits that it is given. And I need to emphasize this, with the occasional comment about a “rogue agency” and so on. These are very law-abiding, patriotic Americans. They will understand the direction they have been given. So when one gives them direction, one has to understand they will not go beyond it. No carve-out, no wink, no nod. So, all we are suggesting is that, before the nation – and obviously, in these terms, it means the new Administration – makes any final decisions, that they are fully aware of what is available, what is not, and what it is they want to do. And I should add, there are legitimate reasons to judge this or that technique beyond just its effectiveness on the detainee. There are broader questions. But one has to deal with the realities.
HERRIDGE: In our briefing [earlier], there was a moment where I felt that you almost… I don’t want to say “teared up,” because those are not the right words, but you were a little emotional. You were talking about the people who work for you, and the fear or lack of confidence they would have if they took the necessary steps, and then there was sort of a “revisionist” view of what happened. And they didn’t have the confidence that they would have the support of the American people.
HAYDEN: Yeah. The people here do hard things. This Agency is asked to do things that no one else is asked to do, and, in fact, no one else could lawfully do. And so we operate in that space all the time. They need confidence that when their government asks them to do things, and gives them assurances about the lawfulness of those things, that there is some permanence to that. This is probably unfair of me to say, but they don’t need to be handicapping the next off-year election to judge whether or not they are going to follow the lawful directives of the government. And you just can’t put these good people in that kind of circumstance.
HERRIDGE: And it was for these reasons that you were heartened by Mr. Obama’s comments?
HAYDEN: Oh absolutely. Now look. These are hard questions. I’m not going to pretend that honest men don’t differ – and have legitimate reasons for differing – over anything that we’ve done out here, particularly in this renditions, detentions, interrogations program. And if it is now the wisdom of the Republic that we want to do things differently – God bless the President, and God bless CIA, and God bless us – that’s exactly what we’ll do. But it’s unfair now to go back and, in a way, almost judge people who were doing things only out of duty.
HERRIDGE: You said today that one of the greatest accomplishments was the number of days it had been since the attack [on the homeland]. Why do you consider that to be one of the most important accomplishments?
HAYDEN: It has been ((word indistinct)) for the Agency since about mid-morning on September 11th. I’ve said this publicly before. One of the most operational offices, the one that really does things in the war on terror, you walk in and there is a big sign. It just says, “Today is September 12th.” People have now been able to walk in there over 2,700 days and look at that sign, and not have to change the date of Sept. 11th as the last attack on the American homeland. I had a town meeting today with the workforce, and I specifically emphasized that with intelligence, it’s hard to see the scoreboard very often. Here is a scoreboard you can see. The Republic has been kept safe. And a lot of credit for that goes to the people of CIA.
HERRIDGE: One of the interesting questions people often pose is, how come we haven’t caught [Osama] Bin Laden, or how did he get away from us?
HAYDEN: One has to understand the circumstances and the vastness of the area in which we believe he was, and is. The nature of that area. This looks simple in the abstract. It becomes hideously complex in the particular. The closer you get to that Afghanistan-Pakistan border area – the factors of geography, of history, of culture – all become more and more important, larger factors, in any kind of calculus. If you ask me if there is a disappointment in my time here, it is that we have not killed or captured #1 or #2. But there have been measurable successes in the war on terrorism. And the fact that his videotape came out yesterday, after an inordinately long pause between the previous video. [The fact that] there was a voice-over, a still picture, and he asked for money may tell you that although he has not been killed or captured, he is not feeling good about a lot of things. And that’s not bad, either.
HERRIDGE: You shared an anecdote with us in the briefing. You said you had gone to somebody to ask why we haven’t found Bin Laden. Maybe you could share that.
HAYDEN: Sure. One of the best people we have – the head of our Counterterrorism Center. I went up to him and said, “You know, I get asked this question a lot. Help me here. Why haven’t we captured him?” And please, I don’t mean to trivialize this. But he kind of leaned forward and said, “Because he’s hiding.” And the point he was trying to make is the next best thing to killing or capturing him is to make this man spend almost all of his waking moments worrying about his own survival – worrying about hiding, worry about staying out of the public eye. And again, that is somewhat unsatisfying in terms of the other alternatives, but it the effect, it is the result, of what we have been doing for the past years.
HERRIDGE: What kind of impact does that have on his well-being, to be constantly hiding, to be constantly moving, to constantly worry about his own safety?
HAYDEN: Well, he is incredibly careful. Without getting into too much detail, he doesn’t see many people. He is isolated. I don’t mean to say that he is isolated, that he is on the dark side of the moon. But let’s say the circumstances of his role as the leader of what he wants to be a global movement today…compare that to what it was in July or August of 2001, and I think you’ll see a dramatic difference. I would add, too, that, almost in the way of a bank-shot, or a carem, or an indirect effect…we’ve talked in other forums about the legitimacy of Ai-Qaida being eroded.. There are many voices in the Islamic world who are questioning the vision that Al-Qaida has. The fact that its chief spokesman is so – and I’ll use the word “incapacitated” as the spokesman for the movement…that may have an impact, too.
HERRIDGE: One of the things that is interesting to me in that tape, and I’m not an expert like yourself, but the tape lacks energy, the voice was very weak. And I wondered whether the stress of being on the run for eight years was really taking a toll on him.
HAYDEN: I don’t know. One would, kind of in terms of an estimative process, say that it has to, but I can’t point to an evidentiary trail that says so. But when you look at, and look at how it has played, you almost want to think it was a “proof of life” kind of video, in terms of getting it out the door. They also clearly want to piggy-back on the fighting that is going on in Gaza, to kind of “re-credential” Al-Qaida. As I said earlier, I think it has lost, in a genuine way, some of its authenticity in the Islamic world.
HERRIDGE: You say “proof of life.” Does he feel that kind of pressure from his followers now to establish that?
HAYDEN: I’m speculating.
HERRIDGE: About how he feels…
HAYDEN: …It feels that way to us. That that was one of the purposes. And again, if you go back, it’s hardly an overconfident locker-room speech that ends with, “Send money.”
HERRIDGE: One of the things that you discussed today was how, sort of the strategy since last summer has been very effective. In that region, you described how it has in some ways loosened their….and this to me is an important point because we have heard so consistently that they are being able to re-establish their base and their strength and hold in that region.
HAYDEN: Right. A lot of factors bear on the problem. Even our darkest estimates about what may have been going on along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border did not compare, never compared with the safehaven they had in Afghanistan prior to September 11th, 2001. That’s one important fact. The second thing is that we did see since the Waziristan peace agreements in September 2006, a re-establishment of more and more of a safehaven, particularly on the Pakistani side of the border. We have said publicly that every known threat to the United States had, in our analysis, a thread back to this Afghan-Pakistan border region. So you did see this development of something that was very worrisome six, nine months ago. I am not going to go into any operational detail of anything that may have happened since then, but a significant fraction of the Al-Qaida leadership in that part of the world has been, in the phrase we use, taken off the battlefield. And taken off the battlefield in a compressed time period, that has made it very difficult for Al-Qaida – which is a resilient organization – but it has made it very difficult for Al-Qaida to respond to this. That is having an impact on Al-Qaida, and on Al-Qaida’s relationship with the people of the tribal region of Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan. It has changed the equation. It has changed the atmosphere there. And it is something that we at the Agency believe really has to continue. It makes Pakistan safer, it makes Afghanistan safer, it makes the United States safer.
HERRIDGE: A very unfriendly place for them now.
HAYDEN: We like to think so, and we would wish it continues to be unfriendly.
HERRIDGE: I would like to move on to, if they feel that their base is not maybe as strong there, then where is the next stop for them?
HAYDEN: When you look at this, and look at the work that the Agency has been asked to do, that is one of the key questions. If they don’t feel it is a safehaven on the Afghan-Pakistan border, where else? We’ve talked earlier about franchises popping up. Is Al-Qaida in the land of Islamic Maghreb, the Sahara region. There’s the Horn of Africa. There’s Yemen. When we look at it, and this is estimative ((words indistinct)), we look at perhaps if they were forced to flee, if what is happening there now continues to the degree that they feel that they have to move – and that would be a great strategic advantage for us, getting them on the move – the Horn of Africa and Yemen are the kinds of places that we think they might look to.
HERRIDGE: The Horn of Africa is interesting to me because of the Somalia question, particularly because we’ve had at least two American suicide bombers in that country. That trend, how much does it concern you?
HAYDEN: It is something that we take great care of, in looking at. Keep in mind, we are a foreign intelligence service. We look abroad. And there are other parts of the American intelligence community – the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI – that have that responsibility, the more focus on the homeland threat. I think it is clear to us that the events of the last two or three years along the Horn of Africa – the Ethiopian move into Somalia a year or two ago – has catalyzed Somalis, and it has affected the Somali expatriate community around the world. And we do have a Somali expatriate community in the United States. Now, I need to be very careful. These people, I’m sure, are and consider themselves to be patriotic, hard-working Americans. But it is something that we look at. And you are right, that there have been some people in the Horn of Africa who have been in the United States, who have gone back, and now participate in these kinds of activities.
HERRIDGE: Is it a training ground?
HAYDEN: Unarguably, it is a training ground. We see that, for a lot of, I’ll use the phrase, like-minded people, to prepare them for the kind of combat that Al-Qaida and its affiliates want to impose on us.
HERRIDGE: You said you had a list of 10 [issues] to watch in the next 12 months, or whatever you want to call it. You talked about Al-Qaida. Is it still the #1 threat?
HAYDEN: Yes. Unarguably. It is the organization that has the capacity to most threaten the physical safety of America and Americans. So it remains job #1. And we have talked about some successes and so on, but it is resilient, and therefore we have to continue to keep an eye on Al-Qaida. One of the things we look at is the trends around the world. And you’ve got Al-Qaida and affiliates, I mentioned in the Islamic Maghreb and Somalia and other areas, there’s the Mumbai attack which is worrisome in the sense of high political impact and low technological base for those kinds of things, make us think what kind of dangers might that suggest toward the United States. There are other things. This is an informal list that I kind of jotted down, what are the things I would fret about over the next 12 months. I included Iran, in terms of as they move forward in their own decisionmaking process, as they continue to churn out LEU, low enriched uranium, they do it at great cost, diplomatically and economically with regard to sanctions. They seem to be doing it with a purpose. As that quantity of that stockpile grows, you would think that at some point in that process, they are going to have to make a decision as to what it is they are going to do with it. So that is something we have to keep a close eye on, as well. We talked a little bit about other potential trouble spots. Our good friend and neighbor Mexico had this horrible surge in violence that may cause – in fact has caused – us to talk with our Mexican friends, in more meaningful and deeper ways, to discover ways that we can cooperate against what we now view to be, and has always been, a common problem. So that is another area as well. And North Korea is always a wild card. It’s almost a “gimme” that sooner or later, they are going to try to stir the pot, and try to destabilize things. The price of oil is another thing that is not quite a crisis, but it is destabilizing. As oil goes under about $40 a barrel, it probably doesn’t have a big impact in Russia which has a large ((words indistinct)) and frankly invested pretty wisely. I’m not sure that it doesn’t have more of an impact in Iran and in Venezuela. When (global) oil is about $40 a barrel, their heavy crude is about $30 a barrel. And that really creates stresses inside the Chavez regime. So again, these are not threats, but they will create torque, and may then suggest some instability.
HERRIDGE: Mumbai. Is that what the attack future looks like?
HAYDEN: Don’t know. It certainly is eye-opening in terms of looking at what was done there by really a small group of people, with very basic weapons. And so it is something that you should pay us to worry about and try to predict, for the future.
HERRIDGE: Particularly when you look at the number of large urban centers that are commercial centers, that are on bodies of water.
HAYDEN: Oh yeah. Exactly. And one doesn’t even have to confine oneself to access by sea. I don’t want to get in the business of suggesting ways to threaten the well-being of the planet, but frankly that is what we are in the business of thinking about every day here with our analytic workforce.
HERRIDGE: And it seems to follow a trend that we saw in the embassy attack in Yemen and, to a certainly more limited extent, the Marriott. A sort of multilayered attack.
HAYDEN: Yes. And particularly the one in Yemen was what we would call a complex attack. It just wasn’t one VBIED, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. It had other phases to it as well. All these things. So it remains a dangerous world.
HERRIDGE: Is that how the threat is evolving to a certain extent, that they are becoming sort of multilayered, complex attacks with very crude weapons?
HAYDEN: I wouldn’t want to suggest with confidence that that is the only thing we should fret about. I would suggest this to you. That Al-Qaida has a certain approach to things. But as Al-Qaida has become more franchised – whether it is in Yemen or Somalia or in North Africa – you’ve got other people working, and if these truly are franchises, these aren’t people who accept fully ((word indistinct)) operational plans from Al-Qaida central. And therefore you might see a greater variety of approaches, a greater variety of threats, based upon the thinking of each of these local groups.
HERRIDGE: They have their own signature.
HAYDEN: Yes. They do. And frankly, although they are all affiliated, which gives them a certain “branding” that they appreciate, they all have their local circumstances, and therefore very likely approach the problem, as they see it, in different ways. That makes it more challenging for us.
HERRIDGE: LT. Is there any evidence that would indicate that the LT would want to target US or Western interests here, as opposed to just overseas?
HAYDEN: I don’t want to get too much into detail. But if you go to what used to be, or have a record of, what they used to have on their web site, there was a migration in Lashkar-i-Tayyiba thinking over the past 6, 12, 18 months, in which they began to identify the United States and Israel as much as being the main enemy as they have historically identified India. That is a troubling development. And now suggests that this migration of Lashkar-i-Tayyiba to a merge point is probably taking place. There is a much stronger affiliation between the two, than we have seen historically.
HERRIDGE: Was that strong affiliation in play in Mumbai?
HAYDEN: That is a good question, and we have asked ourselves that. There were early press reports of specifically targeting foreigners. Specifically targeting Americans. We have had trouble tracking that down in a way that we can say with confidence that they have done that.
HERRIDGE: There was this recent report that Mexico is, there is a real opportunity for collapse. Is that really your assessment as well? Why did you put it on the list?
HAYDEN: No, I don’t want to speculate on that. What you’ve got is President Calderon, very heroically, taking on drug cartels that I think everyone agrees threaten certainly the well-being of the Mexican people and the Mexican state. And taking them on in a very, very progressive way. Now, it is not quite the same thing as Colombia, where you had a politically motivated movement, the FARC, merging with narcotics organizations. Here it is largely in the business of crime. But the effects could be just as dangerous, certainly to the well-being of the Mexican people. I guess what I would offer you is that there is a real opportunity here for cooperation between the two of us who share a certain portion of the North American land mass, in a way that historically just hasn’t seemed achievable. And so, although I would put it down as something to concentrate on, I would do it, in a sense, as an opportunity to build the kind of cooperative relationship with Mexico that we haven’t historically had.
HERRIDGE: You didn’t put Iraq on the list.
HAYDEN: No. This was a list of 10 things that I thought could go ((words indistinct)). Iraq is there. And if I did this two or three years ago, it would have been up there right under Al-Qaida. And I don’t mean we don’t have to worry about it. And I don’t mean that we don’t need to be careful as to how we draw down Coalition forces. But when I look at what is going on there, there are a fair number of positive trend lines that have to continue to be nurtured. But they are positive trend lines. We talked earlier about Al-Qaida in Iraq on the verge of strategic defeat. There is nothing that has happened in the intervening time that would change my mind. You’ve got the Iraqi Government now actually – and this can give you as bad a headache as some of the earlier problems – dealing with the issues of forceful, sovereign Iraq, in terms of determining the future of the Iraqi state. I don’t mean to ignore it. I don’t mean to suggest that this is something in which you can turn off the lights. What I mean to suggest is, this is a success. This is something different than it was a year or two ago.
HERRIDGE: One of the countries that was absent from the discussion today, or largely absent, was Pakistan. The lack of stability in Pakistan. Right now, especially vis-à-vis the military arsenal. Is that a point of concern for you?
HAYDEN: Sure, and I don’t want to get into the business of commenting on the internal politics of a good friend. But Pakistan is in a very difficult circumstance right now. You do have the after-effects of Mumbai. You do have what is happening in the tribal region. You do have the instability along the Afghan-Pakistan border. You do have very serious economic problems with the Pakistani state. And you do have a new government, attempting to establish its legs and to build a democratic Pakistan for the future. That is a real devil’s brew of issues. And President Zardari and Prime Minister Galani have their hands full trying to deal with that. You mentioned nuclear weapons, and clearly, should they ever fall into the wrong hands, it would greatly concern us. But I guess the right word is to assure, or to certainly suggest, no immediate sense of alarm, in that there has been a long, historic relationship between the United States and Pakistan with regard to the security of these kinds of weapons.
HERRIDGE: I want to close by talking about the people who work here. Is that really what you are going to miss most?
HAYDEN: Oh absolutely. There was a period here in which the President-elect did not make his choice, and I tried to say as little publicly as possible. What I did say was this is clearly the President-elect’s choice. He has to feel comfortable with the Director of CIA. That is the most important criteria. That is requirement #1.
Secondly, that if he were to ask me to stay, I would certainly have considered it. But the factor that would motivate me to consider it would be the respect and affection that I have developed for the people here at the Central Intelligence Agency. I’m going to sound like an advertisement, but I’m saying it from the heart.
This is a remarkable workforce, as I suggested earlier. None of the easy problems come up the parkway, whether they are analytic problems or operational problems. We only get the really hard ones. And these people strap those problems on, and go do their best, knowing that the problems are so hard that there is going to be some significant percentage of failure. And yet, they go do it, because they are the best equipped to do it, they’ve been asked to do it by the nation. And they go do it, and they do it quietly, and then they suffer criticism – most of it unfair – when something doesn’t go as perfectly as some people might imagine. I try to use sports metaphors to understand life, and, you know, .300 [batting average] gets you into Cooperstown. And I think some people think this agency should have a fielding percentage – you know, where if you’re not at .980 or .990 you are incompetent. We get nothing but hard sliders and curve balls on the outside corner of the plate, all day. But we get on-base a lot for the American people. And the people who do that deserve the nation’s thanks. When I leave here, one of the things that I want to make sure I do is, to the best of my ability and within the confines of security, make sure the American people know what they’ve got here, in this agency.
HERRIDGE: Anything else you would like to add?
HAYDEN: No. Thanks.