Hayden on Playing Into the Russian Narrative


In the third video installment, the intelligence expert examines the “post-truth era,” in which adversaries attempt to sow confusion through disinformation. Hayden argues that President Trump’s messaging style is unhelpful in combating this dynamic.

Watch the full interview.

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CANNON: In your book you make an analogy, and talking about what we're talking about now, the importance of truth and having a culture that the norm is fact-based information exchanges. You invoke the Enlightenment.


CANNON: You're the second person to do that that I'm aware of. Joel Garreau who runs in Arizona State University runs something called the Weaponized Narrative Initiative. They do papers there examining what the Russians are doing to us. He says, and Joel's an old peacenik. He says, "How do I, I'm talking to all these Generals. How do I excuse that to myself?" Back, young Joel Garreau who marched against the Vietnam War. "The way I tell myself is it's the Enlightenment itself that's under attack."

HAYDEN: Sign me up. That's exactly the thesis in the book.

CANNON: Now, but that raises other questions. So is Donald Trump the first post-modern president?

HAYDEN: So he's-

CANNON: Let's start with that.

HAYDEN: Yeah. So he's the first president in what we have begun to define as the post-truth era. Oxford Dictionary word of the year 2016.

CANNON: But I used post-modern for a reason.

HAYDEN: I understand.

CANNON: Alright, go ahead.

HAYDEN: I understand but my word is post-truth. And it's decision making based less on data and evidence and more on feeling, preference, emotion, tribe, loyalty, or grievance. Watch the President talk. I'm a career GI so I want to be respectful of both the office and the man. So this is descriptive, but watch the President talk. With the exception of the speech he gave, telepromptered, across the river at Fort Myer with regard to Afghanistan, when the President argues for a position or lays out his expectations he does not martial arguments or evidence for it. He transmits it as assertion. Period. There's no fine print underneath it. Then in the defense of whatever had been asserted, he defends it by attacking those who would oppose or question it by undercutting their legitimacy. Fake news. Lying media. Intelligence in quotes. So-called judges. That is the very opposite of the Enlightenment's values which is evidence-based, inquiry, pragmatic, experimental, humble in the face of complexity, willingness to change based upon observation. That's the meat of the Enlightenment. And now you have this other approach.

CANNON: Alright, I wanna tie this back to-

HAYDEN: That's-

CANNON: I wanna tie this back to-

HAYDEN: That's what I'm concerned about.

CANNON: I understand. I wanna tie this back to what the Russians are doing. So post-truth, I said post-modern. That paradox to me that I'm getting is that the first president who behaves this way is the one who routinely attacks the college campuses and political correctness. But this term isn't new. This approach isn't new. This victimization, it comes out of the left. It comes out of college campuses.

HAYDEN: I have no brief to counter your argument.

CANNON: So now we're at the point where we've got the intellectuals on the left and we've got the President of the United States on the right using these same sort of tactics. So then the Russians, we've made the Russians' job very easy for them.

HAYDEN: So let me use my metaphor here. We got this cake.

CANNON: They want us at each other's throats but we already are.

HAYDEN: So I describe it as a three layer cake. The first and biggest layer is us. It is our political dialogue and I am not blaming the political dialogue of the right. I am blaming the political dialogue, the victimization, the position taken by demonizing the opposition. Now a couple years back, a particular political candidate, Donald Trump, recognized that so I'm now to the second layer of the cake, the administration. Recognized it, exploited it, and frankly in my judgment, he makes it worse. He makes it worse sometimes by what he does. He really makes it worse by what he says. So I've got a basic layer, it's us. Now I've got an administration, more effect than cause, exploiting it but worsening it. Then I get to the third layer of the cake which is smaller than the other two, that's the Russians. All the Russians are doing is, "Whoa, this is easy." They flow back and take advantage because what it is they want to do is that which we are doing to ourselves anyway, which is to divide and incapacitate us. Let me give you a number. In terms of this division and what's going on and post-truth and demonizing the opposition. 85% homegrown, 15% Russian.

WALWORTH: Do you think that the Russian campaign during the election had any effect at all on the outcome?

HAYDEN: My answer is yes but I can't prove it and I sure as hell can't measure it so now we're done talking about it. It's an unknowable. Now the President-

WALWORTH: Well it's not unknowable but if no one has been able to come up with a-

HAYDEN: There are no methodologies to count it. It's an influence operation. So I can't measure but I do know that Candidate Trump called attention to Wikileaks 162 times in the last 30 days of the campaign so somebody thought it made a difference. But again, I gotta go back to where I began. I can't measure it and therefore we're done. Donald Trump is the legitimate President of the United States. Move on.

CANNON: General, I wrote a story. If you lose the closest election in history, I'm talking now from the Hilary Clinton side, there's 50 reasons why. This is one of them. That's what you're saying.

HAYDEN: But you didn't ask me to rack and stack them. You said did it influence it. My judgment is yeah, probably, but I can't measure it. Yeah.

WALWORTH: Well my question is that by saying it had immeasurable impact, it had some impact, we don't know what the impact is but it certainly effected, aren't we sort of playing into the Russian narrative?


WALWORTH: But aren't we saying, if we're saying that our electoral college or electoral system rather is so vulnerable that a small, a relatively small effort on the part of the Russians.

HAYDEN: Relatively, yeah.

WALWORTH: That that could influence our campaign to the point where it could potentially delegitimize the outcome.

HAYDEN: Now you see I've not used the word delegitimize. In fact, I've gone precisely the opposite. He is the legitimate President of the United States. There are an ocean of factors and good people-

WALWORTH: But aren't we sowing the same doubt in our system by doing that that you're accusing others of doing in terms of using social media for their purposes?

HAYDEN: I get the point. I totally understand the point. Just one counter punch and then I'll throw myself on the mercy of the court here. It's the President who campaigned that the system was rigged, which is a perfect echo of the Russian effort. So there's a lot of this going around. So, yes, but it's a broader question. It's just not about the campaign. It's the broader pushback from folks like me who go on air, try to be objective, but we open ourselves up to the accusation that we're that deep state thing and we're anti-democratic. So I really do, I write about this in the book, I really do try to be what I am which is the fact witness and not make judgments about the person or the President. I can comment on his actions. I like that. I don't like that. But not about the character of the President. I just think that's, we have no legitimacy for that.

HAYDEN: Now, the problem becomes is I think Donald Trump, my view, is the most norm-busting President we have ever had. So we've got a lot of institutions pushing back against the norm-busting of the President. Actually, it's all those evidence-based institutions like intelligence, law enforcement, justice, science, scholarship, and journalism. But the danger is, in pushing back against the President's norm-busting, these institutions might bust their own norms. Thereby-

CANNON: That's my fear.

HAYDEN: Thereby worsening-

CANNON: About the press.

HAYDEN: Exactly what-


HAYDEN: So the press becomes obsessed with a particular issue. Intelligence? Maybe they leak or they say publicly more things-

WALWORTH: Maybe they leak?

HAYDEN: Say publicly more things than they should. Law enforcement becomes more focused on this than they might otherwise be. So I get all of that. And so we have to be very careful because we can make it worse in the way, but that is not an argument for not arguing.

CANNON: I agree but can I follow that with an example? The example that came to mind, James Comey, by his admit, it's in his memo so this is his words, he tells the President of the United States, "I don't do weasel things. I don't leak." He comes out of the White House and goes in his car and starts typing up the notes. Well, maybe that's a weasel thing, maybe it isn't, but he leaked. He said he leaked. So this would be an example where the norm-busting then is on the other side.

HAYDEN: Maybe.

CANNON: In response to.

HAYDEN: Yeah. I wasn't in Jim's circumstance and we'd have to go to the blackboard and get all the fine print. Is that technically a leak? Was it technically classified? I get all that but that's not important. What's important is the argument, is that in pushing back are you doing things then that you should not otherwise do? Or, in other words, are you cheapening your argument by how you're responding to the things to which you object? I get it. I really do.

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