Remarks by Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden
at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council
September 16, 2008
(as prepared for delivery)
Good afternoon. Thanks for
that kind introduction, and thank you all for inviting me. It’s a pleasure and
privilege to be in Los Angeles
and to speak to this Council.
As eventful as
the world may be right now, the development that is likely to have the most
far-reaching consequences will be a domestic one—the election of a new American
president. From the standpoint of the
Intelligence Community, it’ll be the first time since 1952 that neither
candidate is an incumbent president or vice president. It also will be the first transition since
the office of Director of National Intelligence was created, and that will be a
new experience for all of us.
CIA is the Community’s
executive agent in supporting briefings for Senator McCain and Senator Obama,
reflecting our role in producing the President’s Daily Brief. After the
election, there will be two daily PDB briefings—one for President Bush and
another for the president-elect. The new national security team will be setting
up shop, too, so it promises to be a very busy time for everyone involved.
The new administration will
be a great opportunity for the Agency. I see it as a chance to demonstrate our
expertise and insight into virtually every foreign issue affecting this
country. We’ll get to know all our new customers and learn how best to serve
them. But our fundamental responsibility—protecting the citizens of this
nation—will remain the same.
Today I’d like to talk about how
CIA keeps America
safe from weapons of mass destruction, particularly the nuclear threat. Meeting
that critical challenge has been a core responsibility ever since the Agency’s
founding in 1947.
In fact, the very first CIA
officer to die in the line of duty had been gathering data on the Soviet
nuclear program. Douglas Mackiernan served in the desolate reaches of western China, one of those brave operatives who worked
our top intelligence target along the periphery of the Soviet
“Mack,” as he was called, was
an MIT physics major conversant in Russian and Chinese, a highly resourceful
and perceptive officer who had to work with some pretty basic equipment given
the remoteness of his post. His primary tasks were to investigate Moscow’s access to local
uranium deposits and report any sign of nuclear testing in Soviet Central Asia.
Mackiernan’s mission was cut
short by the rapid western advance of the Chinese Communists after their
revolution in 1949. He escaped by setting out on an epic seven-month trek
across deserts and mountains. He managed to make it all the way to the frontier
where he should have found sanctuary. Tragically, he was shot by Tibetan guards
who had not yet received word that an American was coming and that he should be
granted safe passage.
Douglas Mackiernan’s story
speaks to the dedication and courage our officers have brought to our mission
for six decades. CIA has targeted the WMD threat in all its forms, from the
massive arsenals of rival nations to the deadly aspirations of terrorists. To
say that we’re focused on 21st century challenges doesn’t mean for a
second that we’ve forgotten those of the 20th—or that we aren’t
looking for the emerging threats of tomorrow.
We closely analyze, as we
should and as we must, the WMD and missile programs of countries throughout the
world. But as attentive as we are in tracking existing weapons programs, the
greater challenge lies in detecting those developing in secrecy. CIA is always
watching for signs that states and subnational groups might be taking steps to acquire
nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.
Our mission is made a lot
more difficult by the fact that access to sensitive technologies is no longer
the exclusive domain of a few advanced nations. Dual-use technologies and
scientific experts travel easily in our global economy, making it critical to
follow those movements and know the experts.
But because the materials and
expertise are so prevalent and have perfectly legitimate applications, the very
fact that someone is interested in nuclear, chemical, or biological technology is
not enough to prove they are interested in weapons. A WMD program fundamentally
centers on political intent.
By that measure alone, there
is no greater national security threat facing the United States than al-Qa‘ida and
its associates. Bin Ladin has said repeatedly that he considers acquisition of
nuclear weapons “a religious duty.” And we know that al-Qa‘ida remains
determined to attack our country in ways that inflict maximum death and
We are fortunate that those
with the clearest intent to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction are
also the least capable of developing them. But the potential destruction from
an improvised nuclear device—no matter how elementary—is so great that all that
really matters to CIA is that we know terrorists are determined to use them.
We fight this threat on two
fronts—the supply side and the demand side. CIA has a group devoted to
identifying, penetrating, and disrupting WMD-related proliferation networks. That
group is at the heart of a highly integrated effort, drawing on the expertise
of our own analysts and intelligence collectors and their colleagues throughout
government. Together with our foreign partners, we account for and help
safeguard WMD and related equipment worldwide. We identify the illegal sellers
and buyers of technology and expertise. And we use covert action to disrupt
At the same time, we
work—methodically, patiently, tirelessly—to penetrate and destroy terrorist
networks. Operating against both ends of the chain is critical to detecting and
defeating any nuclear plot against America or our allies.
CIA also focuses on Iran and North Korea, two states whose WMD
programs have threatened US interests, regional stability, and international
arms control mechanisms like the Non-Proliferation Treaty. North Korea conducted a nuclear test
two years ago, and the Intelligence Community judges their program produced
enough plutonium for at least a half-dozen weapons. For its part, Iran
has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to produce nuclear
weapons eventually. The question is not of capability, but intent.
A good analyst never presumes
anything, least of all the plans of a foreign power. Intelligence officers can
only assess capability and intent by starting with a clean slate and working
from solid evidence and known behavior. That’s precisely what our Community did
last year on Tehran’s
nuclear program. The result was the Iran National Intelligence Estimate
released in November.
The Iran NIE has had its
share of criticism, which is typically what happens with a rigorous estimate that
lays out what we know and don’t know about a highly contentious issue. It’s
detailed, thorough, and—quite frankly—it’s courageous. We don’t have time to
delve into the full scope of its findings, but here, very briefly, are the
- Until the fall of
2003, elements of Iran’s
military were working to develop nuclear weapons and a warhead capable of
delivering such weapons.
- Tehran halted these efforts probably due to international
scrutiny and exposure of previously undeclared nuclear work. We assessed that
the nuclear weapons program had not resumed as of mid-2007, a conclusion that
subsequent intelligence still supports.
- And finally, Tehran at a minimum
is keeping open its option to develop nuclear weapons.
What leads us to this last judgment?
Again, it’s a matter of working back from actions. Why are they pushing forward
with the uranium enrichment process at Natanz? They say it’s for civilian
purposes, and yet they’ve rejected international offers of fissile material
under proper controls.
Iran’s behavior, coming as it does after years of nuclear
activity they concealed and continue to deny, invites nothing but suspicion. Why
are they slow-rolling the International Atomic Energy Agency by not being
forthcoming? And why are they willing to defy the United Nations and pay such a
heavy price in terms of international isolation?
Those questions sound
familiar. One could argue that Iraq
under Saddam was just as confrontational and ultimately lacked the weapons we
thought were there. But Iran’s
leaders saw what happened to Saddam, and still they reject every opportunity to
come clean with the world.
North Korea also poses a broad and complex challenge to global
arms control. In fact, the WMD problem in Iran
is compounded to no small degree by Tehran’s
collaboration with North
Korea on ballistic missiles.
Pyongyang’s WMD programs present a double threat. As part of North Korea’s arsenal, they endanger the peace
and stability of northeastern Asia. As a
source of global proliferation, they have been without equal since a joint
operation with our British partners took down A.Q. Khan earlier this decade. Like
Khan, whose network had been the world’s most dangerous black market supplier
of nuclear technology, North
Korea asks only two things of its customers:
first, can they pay, and second, can they keep a secret.
Thanks to some outstanding
intelligence work, we were able last year to spoil a big secret, a project that
could have provided Syria
with plutonium for nuclear weapons. I’d like to cover it here because it’s an
excellent example of how CIA and our Community colleagues attack the problem of
It was reported in the press
last April, and you’re probably familiar with its outlines. We knew that North Korea and Syria had been cooperating since the
late 1990s in the nuclear field. The depth of that relationship was revealed in
the spring of last year, when we identified a nuclear reactor at Al-Kibar in
the eastern desert
of Syria. It was similar
to the one at Yongbyon in North
Korea, but with its outer structure heavily
The situation became critical
late last summer, when we judged the facility could be nearing operation. The
Al-Kibar reactor was destroyed the morning of 6 September 2007. The Syrians
immediately cleared away the rubble and every trace of the building,
stonewalling the IAEA when asked to explain. Their cover-up only underlined the
intense secrecy of this project and the danger it had posed to a volatile
I want to focus briefly on two
important aspects of this intelligence effort: the quality of tradecraft, in
terms of collection and analysis, and the value of collaboration, both with colleagues
in our government and with foreign services.
More than anything else, our work
was a classic example of multidisciplinary, blue-collar analysis. We had a group
of officers who started working overtime on this issue in April 2007 and kept
at it for months. Virtually every form of intelligence—imagery, signals, human
source, you name it—informed their assessments, so that they were never
completely dependent on any single channel.
For instance, a report from a
foreign partner initially identified the structure at Al-Kibar as a nuclear reactor
similar to one in North
Korea. But even without that piece of the
puzzle, it wouldn’t have been long before we reached the same conclusion. We
had previously identified the facility on imagery as a suspicious target. When
pipes for a massive cooling system were laid out to the Euphrates River
in the spring of 2007, there would have been little doubt this was a nuclear reactor.
We would have known it was North Korean, too, given the quantity and variety of
intelligence reports on nuclear ties between Pyongyang
Still, our analysts were open to alternative
possibilities at every juncture. Early on, they applied a methodology that laid
out the inconsistencies in each competing hypothesis. They carefully examined
whether the building might be for another purpose, like a conventional power
plant, or a water treatment facility. In each case, the arguments simply didn’t
add up. The reactor hypothesis was the
most difficult to refute with the available evidence.
We then stepped back and tried to turn the basic
premise on its head: OK, we’ve got a nuclear reactor in Syria built
with North Korean help, but is it necessarily for a Syrian program? Might
it have been built by North
Korea for its own use, to secretly replace
the Yongbyon reactor they had pledged to shut down? We took that hypothesis and
worked very hard on it, but the mainstream theory held sway.
Finally, this was a success reached
through close collaboration across agencies, departments, and governments. Dedicated
officers at CIA, DIA, the Department of Energy, the National Geospatial
Intelligence Agency, and NSA came together as a team, each bringing a specific
expertise to the table. And this was an intelligence problem that required a
wide range of knowledge. I already mentioned all the different forms of collection,
but it also drew from a remarkable diversity of analytic firepower—everyone
from nuclear technology and weapons experts to political and leadership
Our foreign partnerships too were
critical to the final outcome. These relationships aren’t a matter of
occasionally passing along a report that may or may not be useful. They’re more
akin to working together on a complex equation over a long period. Each tries
to solve a variable that in turn helps a partner solve another, and so on until
we’ve cracked the case. That’s what good intelligence is all about.
I hope my remarks today have
given you a better idea of how CIA is meeting the counterproliferation
challenge. The Intelligence Community as a whole has taken great strides since
the pre-war NIE on Iraq to
strengthen our tradecraft, and I think it shows with both the Iran estimate and the Al-Kibar
effort. The rigor of our sourcing, the emphasis on alternative analysis, and the
integration of our expertise with those of our colleagues have never been
By history and law, CIA has
more connective tissue to the rest of the Intelligence Community than any other
organization. We draw on those deep connections and other unique strengths—in
human intelligence collection, all-source analysis, and foreign liaison
partnerships—to fulfill a single overriding mission: protecting the American
people. That remains the ultimate standard by which we measure our success.
I am tremendously proud of
the men and women of CIA. They give far more than they get, and deserve far
better than they usually receive. Like Doug Mackiernan before them, today’s CIA
officers face the same risks, possess the same spirit, and serve the same
cause. They accomplish their mission in ways I’m sure would make you proud,
Thank you very much.