General Hayden's Remarks at SHAFR Conference
Remarks of Central Intelligence Agency Director
Gen. Michael V. Hayden at the
Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Conference
(as prepared for delivery)
Thank you very much. As a lifelong student of history, I not only respect the work you do, I enjoy it. So I was especially pleased to accept the invitation to meet with this distinguished group.
Last month, I had the privilege to be the commencement speaker at my alma mater, Duquesne University. I told the Class of 2007 that the education I received there taught me at least three great truths, the first of which is “everything is connected to everything else.”
That’s the historian in me. What we do today inevitably has its roots in the past. And when you choose the Air Force and intelligence, you choose a profession in which history is a strong component.
Now, if you want to know the other great truths from Duquesne, you’ll have to read the speech, and for that one, you won’t even need a FOIA request. Today’s topic is a different truth—CIA’s social contract with the American people. More specifically, how that contract guides CIA as we balance two crucial obligations: our need to protect information that helps us protect Americans and our need to inform the public—as best we can—about the work we do on their behalf.
Let me explain what I mean by the social contract. I talked about it when I was up for confirmation just over a year ago, and I’ve emphasized it inside and outside CIA ever since. It is a first principle for us—central to all we do.
As a secret organization serving an open and free society, CIA has been granted an enormous public trust. That’s what secrecy is in a democracy. Not a grant of power, but a grant of trust. Each day, we have to earn that trust—as our democratic system demands—by acting as our fellow citizens expect us to: Skillfully, boldly, and always in keeping with the laws and values of our Republic. That’s our social contract.
Here’s an informal yardstick I use: If I could tell my brother back in Pittsburgh or my sister in Steubenville what CIA has done and why, would it make sense to them? Would they accept it as reasonable?
Of course, we cannot tell the American people everything we do to protect them without damaging our ability to protect them. When it comes to secret intelligence, public sovereignty and oversight reside in the Congress. But there is another window into our activities that’s available to the 300 million Americans we serve. It can be found in the documents we release and the work that you and your colleagues do to place that material in a fair and accurate context. That’s why declassification is so important to us.
The Agency officers who do that work wrestle constantly with the twin imperatives of essential openness and essential secrecy. They carry a huge responsibility. Simply put, they must decide when a secret is no longer a secret.
You can imagine the tension involved in making that determination. We must balance our responsibility to the public, and to history, to explain our actions and their impact, with our obligation to protect sources, methods, and ongoing intelligence relationships. These are not simple, cut-and-dried issues. They spark vigorous internal debates that ultimately require informed, yet subjective, judgments. We have those debates and make those judgments knowing that mistakes can jeopardize American security, and, in some cases, place lives at risk. An intelligence organization that fails to protect those who work with it—foreign intel services and individuals—will eventually see sources dry up and cooperation diminish. So, as you can see, this is an existential question for us.
Despite these complexities, CIA recognizes the real benefits that flow from greater public understanding of our work and mission. That is not a boast: No other intelligence agency in the world rivals our record on declassification.
From the millions of pages of OSS documents released in the 1980s, to extensive documentation of America’s early imagery satellites, the Cuban missile crisis, the U-2 program, and large collections of National Estimates on the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam and Yugoslavia, CIA declassification has contributed greatly to the historical record. Just last year we added to that record with the declassification of volumes on the famous Berlin Tunnel operation and CIA’s role in the rural pacification program in South Vietnam.
These projects even have impact beyond our shores. The collection of China estimates, Tracking the Dragon, is on the shelves of a number of Chinese scholars, and the Yugoslavia collection is used in at least one graduate course in Serbia.
Our FOIA program is also very successful. In each of the last nine years, CIA has reduced its backlog—even as we receive about 3,000 new requests annually. This record is unsurpassed in the federal government, and we are making a concerted effort to close old cases, most of which are very complex and involve large numbers of documents.
In that context, we have completed our declassification review and are preparing to release most of the so-called “Family Jewels,” a very famous set of documents written over three decades ago, when Director Schlesinger asked employees to report activities they thought might be inconsistent with the Agency’s charter. Much of it has been in the press before, and most of it is unflattering, but it is CIA’s history. The documents provide a glimpse of a very different time and a very different Agency. When we release these declassified documents, we will put them on our public Web site, just as we have with many others, ensuring easy access.
Under the program that reviews records 25 or more years old, CIA has reviewed and released 31 million pages of previously classified records. One third of those can be full-text searched at the National Archives’ College Park facility using CREST, our records search tool.
Just last month, CIA made its latest delivery of declassified electronic records to the Archives—420,000 pages. These documents, like the nine previous deliveries, cover the full range of our work: Finished intelligence, operations reports from the 1940s and 50s, research and development files from the DS&T, and policy files and memos from the leadership level.
Keep in mind, we not only make these records available, we make them easily accessible, through CREST and our Web site. We are very proud of that and are actively exploring ways to do more, including possible deployment of the CREST system to additional federal records depositories. To date, more than 650,000 pages have been printed from CREST, and the documents available through that user-friendly system are increasingly cited in academic publications.
And remember that nothing about intelligence and declassification happens without human intervention. We do not—we cannot—just kick these things out the door. We have to examine each and every page through the real-world security prism I mentioned. It takes time. It takes care. It takes talent.
Now, this may be a conference of historians, but all of us work in the present, so let me give you a sense of where we’re headed and what our declassification priorities are.
I should say right up front that resources for declassification programs are increasingly constrained. This is a function of the unprecedented demands placed on our core mission areas. There simply has never been greater demand from policymakers for quality intelligence—it is at the center of every national security challenge facing the United States today: terrorism, weapons proliferation, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, to name just a few. The ops tempo we have maintained since 9/11—and must continue to maintain—is unmatched in our Agency’s history.
The good news here is that we’re producing great stuff for future historians. The challenge today is that declassification is getting squeezed. We must use the money and manpower devoted to these efforts more smartly than ever. Certain things are required by law, but we want to do even more. Discretionary projects—like the release of more than 300 NIEs in partnership with the National Intelligence Council, and the declassification of hundreds of articles from Studies in Intelligence—give us the opportunity to present a more complete story, often with the expert help of CIA’s own historians.
So what are the Agency’s current declassification priorities beyond our FOIA and 25-year review obligations?
First, continuing support to the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States series. CIA understands the importance of this official documentary history. We know the value of conveying a complete and accurate picture of our nation’s foreign policy decisions. I’m actually one of the many who has used FRUS, and I can’t imagine writing my graduate thesis on the Marshall Plan without it. But again, this is about more than students and researchers. This is about telling the American people what we have done in their name.
As you know, the biggest challenge here for CIA is determining the extent to which covert actions can be declassified to present a full picture of foreign policy. On that front, we are working hard to draw a smaller circle around what must be kept secret. The bottom line: We strive to release as much as we can without endangering ongoing relationships with foreign partners.
A second priority is reviewing records awaiting release in the presidential libraries. Because we believe those records are relatively more valuable to those who write history, we want to devote relatively more resources to them in our 25-year program.
Thirdly, we plan to continue working with the NIC, which is now part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, to declassify collections of National Intelligence Estimates.
And fourth, we will continue to focus on discretionary releases of Cold War documents. We have in the pipeline a comprehensive collection of reporting and analysis of Warsaw Pact military programs, for example.
And, in collaboration with the Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office, CIA later this year will release hundreds of pages on the development and deployment of the A-12 OXCART. The supersonic reconnaissance aircraft, which was developed with Lockheed as a successor to the U-2, flew missions over North Vietnam and North Korea in 1967-68. The intelligence it gathered helped save American lives by identifying missile sites that our pilots could then avoid. It also located the USS Pueblo, a SIGINT collection ship that the North Koreans had seized. The release of the records will come in conjunction with our 60th anniversary celebration in September.
That’s a few months down the road, though. Today, I want to tell you about another collection. Known inside CIA as the “CAESAR-POLO-ESAU papers,” it is a compilation of in-depth research and analysis on Soviet and Chinese internal politics and Sino-Soviet relations.
The collection is available to each of you today—147 documents amounting to more than 11,000 pages of analysis done between 1953 and 1973.
What is unusual about this release is that the documents were not intended as finished intelligence products to inform policy. Rather, the authors aimed to create a broad base of knowledge on which analysts throughout the Intelligence Community could draw. In doing so, they relied heavily on consultations not only within the Directorate of Intelligence, but also with operations officers, the analytic division of the Foreign Broadcasting Information Service (now known as the Open Source Center), and with a wide range of experts throughout academia.
The CAESAR and POLO papers, which studied the Soviet and Chinese leadership hierarchies, respectively, helped prepare case officers working in the field against Communist targets. And many documents in the ESAU series were used essentially as working papers to inform analysts writing current intelligence on the same subject—formal DI assessments on Sino-Soviet relations that were delivered to policymakers.
The experts who put this collection together point out that many of the papers rely heavily on clandestine collection and other sensitive intelligence methods, information not usually available to researchers outside the Intelligence Community. The judgments in the papers are supported by a great deal of information from diverse sources. Finally, we believe the documents will be of interest to academics, and ultimately, to the public, because they reflect the views of seasoned analysts who followed closely their special areas of research and whose views were shaped in the often-heated internal debates of the Cold War.
Before too long, the collection will be available on the CIA web site—in our FOIA Electronic Reading Room. But for now, this conference is the only place you can get it. So take a copy with you, and after you’ve had a chance to look at it, let us know what you think.
I mentioned earlier that CIA recognizes the very real benefits that flow from greater public understanding of our work. I want to expand on that, because it really is crucial to our success as an organization.
Greater openness does several things for us.
First, it helps the public, Congress, and the executive branch appreciate the courage and integrity of CIA officers. I’ve known the Agency over the years through my other assignments, but the last year has taught me a lot about the men and women who serve there. They are among the most dedicated, talented people I have ever had the good fortune of working with.
Also, releasing records that no longer need to be protected helps people understand the limits of our craft. Americans realize the vital importance of intelligence, especially since 9/11. That’s a good thing. But it’s equally important for people to understand the inherent uncertainties of intelligence work.
CIA officers deal in unknowns and unpredictables. The problems we face are complex and, more often than not, influenced by human behavior, which itself is complex and difficult to predict. We endeavor to reveal what others want to keep hidden, which adds another layer of difficulty to our mission. So even when we are at the top of our game, it’s very, very rare that we can give certitude to policymakers.
Openness, particularly declassification of historical records, also exposes the public to one of the challenges CIA faces every day. Our Agency, and particularly our analysts, are at the nexus between the world as it is, and the world as we wish it to be.
Our job is to understand and explain the world as it is. The policymaker, though, has to make decisions or take action. We are expected to inform those decisions and actions by providing warning and signaling opportunity. That ties us closely to policymakers. They demand that we be relevant, and our craft demands that we be objective. Sitting in that nexus between reality and aspiration is never easy, and I think historical studies of foreign policy and the role of intelligence in shaping it, makes that point clear.
A final reason why declassification, when possible, is in CIA’s interest: We want our history and our role in key decisions to be written accurately and fairly. Very often, we simply cannot correct misinformation in the press—history’s first draft—without revealing information that would undermine ongoing intelligence operations. And, unfortunately, there seems to be an instinct among some in the media today to take a few pieces of information, which may or may not be accurate, and run with them to the darkest corner of the room.
With the passage of time, declassified historical records can give the full, accurate picture—the good and the bad, along with the necessary context. So eventually, the academic community and the public we ultimately serve together can arrive at informed judgments about CIA’s work and effectiveness.
A few months after I arrived at CIA last year, I met with the Publications Review Board—a small, dedicated group that reviews books and other writings by current and former officers. I told them a few things that apply not only to their work, but also to information review and release more broadly. I said I expected CIA to build up a body of knowledge that is declassified, and to use decisions made in particular cases as precedent to guide future decisions.
I also told them that we need to draw hard lines to protect that which is truly secret, but warned that if we’re drawing them on the margins, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. I know it’s a lot easier to say, “no” than to say, “let me think about that,” but the latter is where we should be. The best decisions, like the best intelligence, rarely come from the easiest road, especially on the toughest issues.
A few months after that meeting, CIA centralized all declassification review and release programs at the corporate level. We concluded that under the previous structure, where greater authority rested with the Directorates, decisions too often were opaque, inconsistent, and subject to lengthy, unproductive disputes. The new approach gives our Chief of Information Management Services a stronger hand to ensure that adequate record searches are undertaken and appropriate decisions are made. We want decisions that are reasonable, timely, transparent, and credible.
I firmly believe this approach will improve CIA’s standing with key partners inside and outside government, including people like you. It also will strengthen our ability to educate the public about our unique work and our vital contributions to national security.
I hope you’ll see good results from these steps. In our robust democracy, people want and deserve to know more about the government agencies they pay for and that exist to serve them, even the secret ones. We work for and serve the interests of the American people. When the protection of information is no longer required, we owe it to our fellow citizens to disclose that information.
Thank you again for the opportunity to be here. It’s been a pleasure.