The Administration

Michael Hayden: One year later — Trump’s journey from candidate to president

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Twelve months ago I was on the road talking about my just published memoir, “Playing to the Edge.” As the title might suggest, it wasn’t a very apologetic piece. I also spent some time scoring the successes, misses and near misses of intelligence analysis. Above all, I wanted to better acquaint the American people with the men and women who conduct espionage on their behalf, to show that such espionage wasn’t just compatible with American democracy. It was essential to it.

I’m glad I did all that and frankly those core messages still stand up pretty well. It’s just that many other things seem to have changed.

{mosads}With that provocative title, for example, I fully expected to to be playing defense for a good portion of the tour and defending American intelligence against charges of illegal excesses. Didn’t happen.


With Presidential candidates talking about carpet bombing, killing terrorist families and resorting to a lot more than just water boarding, I spent more time explaining that there were edges than I did explaining why we had played right up to them. And even though President Trump seems to still be a fan of torture (his words, not mine), the institutions of American security have pushed back hard against him.

Analysis has been buffeted even more than direct action. I readily admitted in the book that intelligence should never claim to be the sole determinant of Presidential action; many other factors legitimately play. But I did insist that good intelligence sets the left and right hand boundaries of logical policy discussions.

We saw how failure to do that played out in the recent refugee/traveler/Muslim ban executive order, which by all accounts had no intelligence input. It’s not surprising that no currently serving intelligence official has publicly commented on the action. More telling, though, is that none of the four former DNIs or eight former CIA directors (including acting directors) of the post 9-11 era has uttered one positive syllable about the move.

Speaking for myself, it appears that the Administration was independently sizing the threat to meet the needs of a predetermined policy — precisely the opposite of a healthy intelligence-policy relationship.

To be fair, that’s always a tough relationship to develop. In the book I talked about how intelligence and policy bring different perspectives to the conversation. Intelligence analysis tries to be fact based, reflecting “the world as it is;” it is inherently inductive as it draws generalized truths from a sea of data; it’s also relentlessly pessimistic.

A President, any President, is more vision based — after all, it’s his vision that got him elected — and inherently deductive, trying to apply that broad vision to particular circumstances. He’s more “a world as we would like it to be” personality and therefore more optimistic.

By late summer it was clear that Trump had these latter characteristics beyond anything we had ever seen before. He seemed almost preternaturally confident in his own judgements, often at the expense of hard facts. It was always going to be hard to budge him off his a priori narrative of how things work.

It was tragic that this inevitable struggle was first engaged on an issue — Russian efforts to manipulate American perceptions and elections that was being used by others to challenge Trump’s legitimacy as President.

It created a perfect storm of charges and counter-charges and its effects won’t be wiped away by a single campaign-like stop at Langley. The impact of Presidential tweets rejecting analysis from the folks, “who said Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction” and then labeling them Nazi-like will linger for some time.

Especially since those tweets could be read as part of a broader effort to delegitimize (or control) institutions designed to create a factual basis for government action. For the public debate, delegitimize “the dishonest media”. Within the government, delegitimize or at least reduce the voice of the IC.

Which may be the purpose of the small intelligence-like shop set up in Steve Bannon’s White House Strategic Initiatives Group. The shop is headed by Sebastian Gorka, former national security editor at Breitbart News and a prolific commentator on Islamic extremism whose views more closely mirror the language of the Trump campaign (since he wrote a lot of it) than the broader IC.

When I wrote the book, I set out to explain to the broader public the value of American intelligence. I took it as a given that those in government, especially those at the very top, already appreciated that. I may have assumed too much.

It all reminds me of my first conversation in early 2009 with Leon Panetta, my successor at CIA. I told Leon that he was inheriting the best staff in the United States government and that if he gave them half a chance, they would not let him fail, the same way that they would not let me fail. These people live (and sometimes die) for only one purpose: making America safer by making America wiser about the world.

The challenge now is how to get that message to the President and his closest advisors.

Gen. Michael Hayden is a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency.

The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump Gen. Michael Hayden Michael Hayden President Trump Trump administration

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