Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), said in a September 7 speech at CFR that among the myriad security threats faced by his agency, “none commands more attention than terrorism.”
Hayden, an Air Force general who ran the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005, has led the CIA for sixteen months. During that time he has overseen the release of several national intelligence estimates offering cautionary accounts of the “war on terror,” including one describing the Iraq war as “the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists.”
Speaking at CFR’s New York headquarters, Hayden described two parallel tracks in the “war on terror”: a “close fight” and a “deep fight.” The former, he said, consists of efforts to destroy an enemy that is “easy to kill, but hard to find and quick to regenerate.” The deep fight “requires winning the war of ideas” by reducing the appeal of jihad ideology to disenchanted young Muslims. Hayden was careful to add, “The war of ideas is not about Islam. It’s about fanatics whose victims most often have been Muslims.”
“This is a form of warfare unlike any other in our country’s history,” he said. “It’s an intelligence war as much as a military one.”
In such a war, Hayden argued, the media and society in general needs to factor the need for secrecy into its view of events.
“A free press is critical to good government,” Hayden said, but he argued that the media should not act as a watchdog over the government’s clandestine services. That role, he said, belongs to Congress. “It’s important to bear in mind that my agency is subject to another oversight mechanism that has full access to our operations and takes our security requirements into account: It’s the people’s representatives in Congress.”
Hayden spoke at length about the often tenuous relationship between his agency and the media. “The duty of a free press is to report the facts as they are found. By sticking to that principle, journalists accomplish a great deal in exposing al-Qaeda and its adherents for what they are.” Hayden decried what he considers poor judgment by journalists seeking to expose CIA practices. “In a war that largely depends on our success in collecting intelligence on the enemy, publishing information on our sources and methods can be just as damaging as revelations of troop or ship movements were in the past.” Furthermore, he complained, such exposure has scared away vital sources and even created rifts between the CIA and other nations’ intelligence services.
Hayden cast his agency as adhering to strict boundaries, emphasizing that all detentions, renditions, and interrogations conducted by the CIA have been lawful and infrequent. “Since [the CIA’s detention and interrogation program] began with the capture of Abu Zubaydah in 2002, fewer than one hundred people have been detained at CIA’s facilities. And the number of renditions, apart from the fewer than one hundred detainees, is an even smaller number.”
Members of the audience pressed the director to defend efforts to legalize “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as waterboarding. They also asked him to explain CIA policy on renditions and the extradition of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere to nations with poor human rights records.
Hayden explained that detainees are only extradited to nations where they are citizens or against which they have committed a crime. For instance, the Pentagon announced this week the extradition of sixteen Saudis held at Guantanamo Bay back to their homeland.
“We do not do it to circumvent restrictions on ourselves.” Further, he added, an extradition will only occur if it is deemed to lower the likelihood that a detainee will endure mistreatment: “We have to believe that it is less, rather than more likely that the individual will be tortured.”
Nevertheless, he said, the CIA will transfer custody of a suspect to nations with poor track records of prisoner treatment, provided it received assurances of proper treatment. He depicted the CIA’s appeal for “enhanced interrogation techniques” as simply an effort to clarify boundaries and “exhaust the universe of interrogation techniques allowed under common article three” of the Geneva Conventions.
In explaining the absence of a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, Hayden credited “exceptionally intelligent, creative officers. We haven’t just been lucky, and it isn’t as if the terrorists have been lazy…. We bear responsibility for standing watch on this threat.”