Interview with (Ret.) Gen. Michael Hayden

Interview with (Ret.) Gen. Michael Hayden

By State of the Union - July 25, 2010

CROWLEY: The troubling issue of home-grown terrorism raised its head this week at a detention hearing in a Alexandria, Virginia courthouse. This is Zachary Chesser, a 20-year-old convert to Islam, who grew up in suburban Washington. He is charged with providing material support to and trying to join up with a Somali-based terror group linked to Al Qaida. According to a congressional report, since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion on the war on terror. The Washington Post this week published a major series reporting that American intelligence has become a bureaucracy it called a hidden world, growing beyond control. The Post reported that 854,000 people, many of them private contractors, now hold top-secret clearance. Since 2001, 30 new top-secret intelligence complexes have been built in the D.C. area. Intelligence operations are spread over 10,000 U.S. locations.

The man nominated to head all U.S. intelligence, retired Lieutenant General James Clapper, took issue with Post reporter and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Dana Priest.


LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET), DNI NOMINEE: I think she has driven for a bit of sensationalism here. That's not to say that there aren't inefficiencies and there aren't things we can improve.


CROWLEY: In today's Washington Post, retired General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and National Security Agency, writes, "The intelligence community often declines to defend itself for fear of making America less safe by revealing even more secrets." We will talk to General Hayden when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now is Michael Hayden, a retired four-star general in the United States Air Force, former director of the CIA and currently a principal with the Chertoff Group, a security firm in Washington, D.C. Welcome.

HAYDEN: Good morning.

CROWLEY: You have read the Post articles.

HAYDEN: Indeed.

CROWLEY: You have responded to the Post articles, and I guess my basic question here is, inarguably, the intelligence community has gotten larger.


CROWLEY: Has it made us less safe?

HAYDEN: No, no, the expansion has made us more safe. Could we be even better protected by more efficiencies in the way we've expanded? Of course.

When I became director of CIA, it was just clear to me intuitively, without a whole lot of science behind it, that we had expanded rapidly and inefficiently. So I arbitrarily picked a number, 10 percent, and I said over the next 12 months, we are going to reduce our reliance on contractors by 10 percent. We did that with hardly any pain at all, so much so that I said, let's cut it 5 percent the next year, and we did.

So there are inefficiencies, as General Clapper pointed out in his testimony, but we rely on contractors for a lot. We can't go at this slash and burn, because contractors are key to an awful lot of our successes in the intelligence community.

CROWLEY: Let's talk about contractors for a minute, because I thought there were some surprising figures in there for some of the things that really are shopped out for other people to do. And this was someone else who wrote in the Washington Post responding to the series, Janine Wedel, who wrote, "Contractors integrally involved in intelligence, homeland security and defense policy are positioned to influence those policies to their liking on even the most sensitive government functions. The result is that our security can be jeopardized and our nation's sovereignty eroded."

So basically, that they are -- that contractors aren't beholden to the -- haven't sworn, you know, as one does when one works for the U.S. government. They are beholden to their shareholders. They want to, you know, they are in a business and they want to make money. And then we find out from this Post article that there are 854,000 people with top-secret security clearance, and 30 percent of them are these outside contractors. I just can't believe that in the hundreds of thousands of private contractors with top-secret clearance, that there is not one bad apple in there?

HAYDEN: Well, the same could be said about those government employees who have top-secret clearances. That's why you go through the clearance process.

What that essentially means is that we have a process by which we vet these individuals. And although everything you said about contractors financially, fiscally is true -- I mean, they are in business -- you would be surprised at the amount of patriotism that is actually exhibited by contractors, who would forego profit because they want to do the right thing. Now, I understand that may not always be the case, but fundamentally that's my responsibility as I was director of CIA. You have a partnership with contractors. Surely you would want to be interested in their views. So I guess they get an opportunity to shape government policy, but fundamentally, it's the government employee, the director of CIA, the DNI, who has to make those choices.

CROWLEY: I guess I would be more concerned -- look, when I went through clearance to get a White House pass, it took them six months. Now you have got 825,000 people with top-secret clearance, which to me sounds like they can see a lot of stuff. And couldn't you argue that some of these people really have not been cleared in the way they should have been? To me it's just scary.

HAYDEN: No, it's the other way around, actually, Candy. They are all held to the same standard. And if there is a fault in the system, it's the difficulty we have of getting people cleared in a reasonable period of time, whether they are government employees or contractors. Frankly, that hurts our agility. We know an individual is out there. That individual has got the right skills, the right talent, wants to come work, whether government or contractor, and it takes us months, sometimes the better part of a year, to get them across that divide and get them cleared. So I have got high confidence in the clearance process. That's not the issue.

And I guess I should add, too. I mean, we clear a lot of people who don't have access to very much. Our guard force needs to be cleared. Our chart (ph) force needs to be cleared. Our cafeteria workers need to be cleared. They are included in those numbers.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the budget cuts. We are hearing anywhere -- and certainly some of the heads of these intelligence agencies are expecting 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent cuts in their budgets. Would that harm security, from what you can tell?

HAYDEN: Cuts of that dimension would certainly harm security. And my own personal view--

CROWLEY: How so?

HAYDEN: Well, we have an agile, learning enemy in Al Qaida. I mean, to use terrorism as the prime example here. Al Qaida changes, Al Qaida adapts. We have to adapt as well. We rely on resources to do that. Reducing resources beyond a certain point will make us less able to adapt as our enemy adapts. So I would be cautious about that. CROWLEY: Let me talk about home-grown terrorism, which we have seen a lot of, it seems like, over the past several months.

CROWLEY: That's the hardest thing to combat, isn't it?

HAYDEN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

CROWLEY: And how do you do it?

HAYDEN: In a democracy, it's incredibly difficult. Look, we've all made our compromises with Al Qaida and the Al Qaida kinds of attacks against iconic targets, the spectacular, like we saw in 9/11, or the kinds they attempted in the summer of '06, with those planned attacks against wide-body jet liners between Great Britain and North America, all right.

So we're all willing to stand in line at the airport. We're all willing not to take bottles of liquids and so on. But how do you build a security structure that guards you against American citizens who are beginning to change in their thinking up to a point where they become a threat to the security of other Americans?

CROWLEY: Can you?

HAYDEN: That's a devil of a problem. And frankly, what are you or your viewers willing to pay? How much would you allow us to squeeze commerce or privacy or convenience in order to get down to that level of granularity?

And, frankly, I think American political culture -- I think you and I as citizens would be uncomfortable going very far in that direction, so that's what makes this such a devilish problem.

CROWLEY: So we can cut down the chances of a homegrown terrorist attack, but we can't eliminate it?

HAYDEN: That's correct. And one thing I've learned in the business of intelligence is never use the word "never."

CROWLEY: When you left the CIA about two years ago, you said the two biggest problems facing your successor would be the Iranian nuke program and the drug smuggling and the violence from Mexico. Would you change either one of those?

HAYDEN: No, no. To be accurate, counterterrorism was job one. Beyond counterterrorism, I would put counterproliferation as job two. And within counterproliferation, it is inarguably Iran.

The growing problem, the one that was beginning to gnaw more aggressively at our attention was what was going on in Mexico, and that began to become very visible to us about two years ago, and that's why I mentioned it as I was leaving office.

CROWLEY: Do you think, though, there is any answer?

I mean, Iran doesn't seem to be paying much attention to the sanctions. As far as we know, they are still trying to get nuclear capability. If it should, is there any alternative to taking out their facilities?

HAYDEN: It seems inexorable, doesn't it?

We engage. They continue to move forward. We vote for sanctions. They continue to move forward. We try to deter, to dissuade. They continue to move forward.

My personal view is that Iran, left to its own devices, will get itself to that step right below a nuclear weapon, that permanent breakout stage, so the needle isn't quite in the red for the international community. And, frankly, that will be as destabilizing as their actually having a weapon.

When I was in government, what we would used to mystically call "the kinetic option" was way down on our list. In my personal thinking -- in my personal thinking; I need to emphasize that -- I have begun to consider that that may not be the worst of all possible outcomes.

CROWLEY: I've got less than a minute. I want to ask you a quick question on Afghanistan, probably a yes or no. We're seeing a number of lawmakers now saying we're not sure this is still worth the fight. We're told there are less than 100 Al Qaida in Afghanistan. Do we need to stay there?

HAYDEN: I think we do. I personally believe we've got the right strategy. It's only now beginning to be resourced. The last brigades are arriving. I would let this go for a while longer.

With regard to the small number of Al Qaida in Afghanistan, that may be a reflection of American power in Afghanistan. And if one were to remove that combat power, one would naturally see the number of Al Qaida rise.

CROWLEY: Retired General Michael Hayden, thank you so much for your expertise. I appreciate it.

HAYDEN: Thank you, Candy.


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