Transcript of Interview of General Hayden, on the Occasion of His First Anniversary as Director of CIA by WTOP Radio's J.J. Green
June 1, 2007
May 30, 2007
[General Hayden was interviewed by WTOP Radio’s J.J. Green on May 30, 2007, on the occasion of his first anniversary as Director of CIA. WTOP is airing portions of the interview today and early next week. The following is the full transcript of the interview.]
Green: The Global War on Terror. How much progress have you made since you took over, since you took the office?
General Hayden: Certainly, we have put a lot of energy into it. There have been a lot of successes. But as other folks in uniform are fond of saying, J.J., the enemy gets a vote, too. As the President has pointed out, this remains a challenge, something we have to work on -- work at -- every day. There have been no attacks on the homeland which, of course, is the most fundamental measure of merit. I think that’s a product of the work we have done – we, plural, collectively, throughout the United States. But it’s hard work and it’s not something that is taken for granted.
Green: What do you know, now, about Al-Qaida, that you didn’t know a year ago, or even six months ago? Anything?
General Hayden: Hard for me to get into detail about it, but I do think we have a deeper understanding of the organization. There are no things in this line of work, in intelligence, that are permanent. They are always transient. But in that sense, I think we have moved at a good pace, understanding Al-Qaida, as it itself has morphed, as Al-Qaida itself has changed directions, because of the things we’ve done in our activity against it. So, I’m comfortable that we’re moving forward, but you know, J.J., the rule of thumb here is it’s better, but it’s not yet good enough. You always want to improve your performance.
Green: Understood. Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida, speaking of them, how do you assess their capabilities today – stronger, weaker, the same, resurging, or what?
General Hayden: Compared to at any other point? Compared to before 9/11? It is an adaptive enemy. We have clearly put them back on their heels after 9/11, with our response in Afghanistan and elsewhere. But it is an adaptive enemy. They’ve responded to the techniques we’ve used against them. The President has been very clear. This is going to be a long war. It’s going to take a long time, and we’re just going to continue to have to work against it.
Green: And what has been your biggest help or your biggest advantage in the war on terror and hunting down Bin Laden and Al-Qaida?
General Hayden: It sounds like an advertisement, J.J., but it’s the people here – their dedication, their willingness to sacrifice, and particularly their knowledge. This group here at the Agency – throughout the American Intelligence Community, but I want to talk most about the CIA – has a deep and detailed knowledge of the enemy that they enhance every day. And so, that has been the biggest advantage. You know, there has been a lot of discussion in the press – the President has talked about enhanced interrogation techniques and different things that we use, all lawful, in this war. But I have to tell you. Even when you are face to face with a terrorist, and you have the opportunity to interrogate him, the strongest tool you have is your knowledge.
Green: And speaking of those people you talked about a minute ago, you also told me in that interview some six months ago that damage done by leaks – officers being outed and too much unauthorized information making it into the media – you said at that point in time you wanted the Agency to get out of the news as a subject or source.
General Hayden: Right.
Green: Have you achieved that, or are you a ways [from that]?
General Hayden: “Achieve” is a pretty strong verb for something like that. It is a continual process. Something could happen tomorrow that makes you feel bad about something that the enemy now knows, that the enemy should never learn. It is something that you just work on all the time. I feel good about the performance of this Agency, certainly during my time here. One of the job descriptions for CIA is to keep the nation’s secrets, and I feel good that we are doing a good job at that. But that doesn’t mean that some of the nation’s secrets don’t get pushed into the public domain in a way that is very inappropriate, in a way that helps our enemies and actually makes Americans less safe and ultimately less free.
Green: Do you have anything to say at all about the way the Valerie Plame situation, and the trial, turned out? Did it set an example? Did it send a message about the importance of the integrity of your people -- covert people?
General Hayden: I’m not comfortable talking a great deal about it. But let me share with you something I shared with the members of the House of Representatives as they were about to hold open hearings a month or two ago. And that’s simply this: The people in our Agency are either not undercover or they are undercover, they are either overt or covert. And then that’s a binary choice for us. And there isn’t a whole lot more to be said once someone has been identified as one or the other category. That is the role the Agency played in this whole national debate, and I’ll let all of the other elements about that…I’ll let other people talk about that. The role of this Agency was simply saying that Ms. Plame’s relationship with this Agency, as a covert CIA officer, was a classified piece of information.
Green: Renditions, secret prisons, and Guantanamo Bay are still big issues. The American Civil Liberties Union is the latest to make an issue of this, accusing the Boeing Company and some of its subsidiaries of helping to transfer suspects overseas, to basically be tortured knowingly. You still haven’t been able to get people to stop talking about that – that issue of torture. Is there a way to do that?
General Hayden: Well, we worked hard this past fall. You recall the President making that speech on September 6th, when those 14 individuals who were in CIA custody had arrived at Guantanamo Bay. There was a national debate about this in the Congress, leading up to the passage of the Military Commissions Act. I can tell you this, that I have been down to the Hill briefing our two oversight committees, in both the House and the Senate, more than a half a dozen times, between the two committees. I’ve been totally open with all the questions that all the members of the committees have asked me. In essence, my view is that what the Agency is doing is lawful, it’s appropriate, and it’s effective. And I’ll continue to repeat that message to anyone who cares to [answer], up to the degree of security classification that that individual has.
Green: Relationships with foreign partners was another one of your key goals. How is that going, especially considering that some of the allies had been pretty hard on CIA and the U.S. in trying to extradite officers and trying to take the U.S. into court? How has that affected your relationship with these countries?
General Hayden: Number one, we have put a great deal of energy – certainly in the past 12 months, but it is something the Agency has done for a long time – in these liaison relationships. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t host a partner, or talk to a partner on the telephone. Both [CIA Deputy Director] Steve Kappes and I have traveled a lot to our partners. I would say, across the board, our relationship with other intelligence services around the world is very strong. And these relationships are growing both deeper and broader, and that’s good news for America, and for the safety and security and liberty of Americans. There are the issues you raised. The dust-ups that have taken place in some court systems in Europe. I’m just here to tell you that the intelligence relationships that we care about, we nurture. And they continue.
Green: Iran. Very aggressive lately. The nuclear situation, it’s tough to deal with, because as you mentioned before, it’s harder to collect intelligence in places where you don’t have an official relationship. Some reports indicate they have been continuing to move more rapidly toward their goal. What is your assessment of the nuclear situation with Iran?
General Hayden: Very difficult for me to talk about that in an unclassified setting, J.J. The [Intelligence] Community estimate at the current time is that Iran is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. We still believe that to be true. I think everyone, both in the region and globally, is rightfully concerned about the prospect of that development. I’m afraid I’ll have to just leave it at that for now.
Green: As far as the Americans being held in Iran at this point in time, and there is one who is missing, any comment, any thought on that?
General Hayden: No, I don’t have anything to add, other than what has been in the press about it. But it is a reflection of the character of the regime, I think, that these Iranian-Americans have been arrested, are being held. In its own way, it’s a kind of messaging about the character of that government.
Green: You recently made a reference in your Memorial Day speech, thanking the men and women of the CIA who are on the front lines in the war on terrorism, particularly those serving alongside the armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Can you talk about how valuable they are and what they are up to?
General Hayden: Yeah. Incredibly valuable. Wonderful people. I’ve had a chance to visit them at many of these stations and bases. Let me tell you. When you go forward, and you see our folks and the folks from the Department of Defense, particularly our special operations forces, I will say to you, J.J., that the CIA folks and the special operations folks are indistinguishable. That’s how integrated our operations are with the American armed forces. Admiral McConnell, the new DNI, has put a great deal of emphasis on this integration aspect of American intelligence. And he took a swing through the theaters of war -- in Afghanistan and in Iraq -- and he came back, and you have to imagine, he has been out of the business for about 10 years…he goes there with a blind slate and absorbs what he’s seeing, and his message to me, when he came back, was what he saw was nothing short of amazing, in terms of this integration.
Look, before we get too exuberant here, we still have a lot of work to do. But the very best performance we have as an Agency – in terms of both our operations and how we integrate with other elements of the American security establishment – that’s happening forward, in the theaters of war.
Green: Very last thing. George Tenet, in his book, talked about some of the difficulty the CIA underwent in terms of how some of the former Administration officeholders basically tried to cast the role of the policy of the US Government, in how the CIA should interpret their job as it related to collecting intelligence for that policy. Any thoughts now on whether or not that has been alleviated from the Agency, or on the book in general?
General Hayden: Well, I’m personal friends with George. I’ve got a copy of the book somewhere in the house, and I’ll go through it on a long trip some time. Look, what George was trying to describe there J.J., I think, was a challenge, almost a dilemma that an Agency like CIA has at all times. Let me just spend a minute to try to describe it from my point of view. We are at the nexus, the intelligence analysis is at the nexus of the world as it is, and the world we want it to be. We come in there with a description of the world as it is, maybe even some thoughts as to the potentialities of the world of the future, and a policymaker comes into that session with a viewed toward, he has got to take some action. He has got to make a decision. We have to be so intimately tied to that policymaker that our analysis is relevant to that decision he has to make, but not so intimately tied to that policymaker, or that decision, that we own, or become co-opted by, the decision that has been made, or in a way that reduces our ability to do good analysis. That is the human condition for an organization like CIA. That is not anything you can avoid; it’s not anything you want to avoid. It’s just the challenge that is laid out to you – that you are so intimately involved with these decisions that you are relevant, but not so intimately involved with these decisions that it begins to erode your objectivity.
Green: General, congratulations on your first year. And as you look forward to your next year, anything you want to add, that I haven’t asked you about that you think is important?
General Hayden: I’ll just add something we may have talked about last time, J.J. I knew about the Agency in my years in the Air Force, and other intel assignments. But I’m going to tell you the absolute strength of this Agency is its workforce. These are among the most dedicated, talented people I have ever had the good fortune of working with.
Green: Again, congratulations, General. All the best on your next year.
General Hayden: Thank you.