By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Michael V. Hayden
Narrated by: Michael V. Hayden
General Hayden deserves praise for his candor about the functions of the NSA (the National Security Administration) and CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). Undoubtedly, much is not said because of the nature of the subject but Hayden offers a picture of America’s secret service that is at once necessary and discomfiting.
Necessity revolves around what Hayden calls the “close game”. Discomfort comes from a misapprehension of what he calls the “deep game”. The close game is clandestine surveillance and targeted action. The deep game is winning “hearts and minds” of other nations.
Without question, Hayden is a great American patriot. He demonstrates his commitment to America with military service in the Air Force that raises him to a four-star general level. Nearing the end of his military career, Hayden is chosen to manage two of the most secretive bureaucracies in the world; e.g. the NSA and CIA. His tenure covers the most critical years of America’s war on terror, beginning with 9/11 and stretching to President Obama’s election as 45th President of the United States.
As leader of the NSA, Hayden admits that he got Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction wrong. Hayden notes that the nature of covert intelligence is that it is often built on circumstantial evidence. In the intelligence gathering business, Hayden notes there is often smoke where there is no fire.
A great deal of circumstantial information suggests Saddam Hussein had an arsenal of WMD, but when America invades Iraq, no WMD is found. NSA is hoodwinked by Hussein’s propaganda. From other author’s accounts, Hussein appears to have thought the creation of a “WMD fiction” made his rule stronger.
Hayden explains that intelligence is difficult to gather. When he first begins at NSA, there are relatively few Arabic speaking translators working for the agency. Equally surprising, NSA’s computer data-gathering systems are found to be antiquated. In fact, they nearly collapse just before Hayden takes over.Hardware is found operationally disjointed with different operating systems using algorithms that did not communicate with each other. Hayden attacks both deficiencies by hiring more translators and using a combination of outside consultants and inside computer whizzes to revamp NSA’s data gathering and communications system. Hayden suggests much of NSA’s translator and data-gathering weakness is eliminated but infers, with the advent of cyber war, technology remains a significant challenge.
Aside from the WMD error, Hayden seems to have left NSA in better condition than when he arrived. One judges for themselves about how critical the WMD mistake may have been in leading America into Iraq.
The CIA becomes Hayden’s next big intelligence job. From Hayden’s description, little change seems to have been necessary when he took the reins. He notes that CIA employees were less regimental than NSA employees but equally committed to their professions. He notes that CIA employees have all the same family problems of any large employment organization. Taking children to school, or to their sports, or music lessons, is the same for a CIA employee as for any family. One difference is that CIA employees are often unable to bring their work home and must internalize much of the frustration of their jobs. And, of course, they have the temptation of being compromised by foreign interests wanting to have actionable intelligence for their own governments.
As one listens to Hayden’s description of NSA and the CIA, it begins to sound like any job in a big organization. However, there is a whiff of organizational self-interest that suggests self-preservation and hubris, more than mission, is an employment motivation. Hayden did not wish to change the CIA when he took command. He seems to have succumb to the mythology of an organization that began in WWII, saved America, and could do no wrong.
On his first day of work, Hayden’s principle objective seems to have been to calm troubled feelings in the organization caused by the CIA’s errors of commission and omission. The CIA is complicit in the mistaken decision about WMD in Iraq. The CIA is complicit in black terrorist detention sites, prisoner abuse, and civilian collateral damage from drone attacks. Further, the CIA fails to catch bad actors in the agency before government secrets are sold to foreign interests.
The CIA is detailed by Hayden as a human organization. Decisions are made that raise questions of morality and ethics. Hayden argues that enhanced interrogation does reveal intelligence’ secrets. Hayden attempts to find a middle way between water boarding and sleep deprivation to get intelligence information from suspected terrorists. However, he goes so far as to suggest water boarding was useful in the interrogation of one terrorist who is uncooperative. Hayden’s judgement is that prisoner resistance is broken down by enhanced interrogation. (For those who have been through basic training in the military, that judgement seems plausible.) Many remain skeptical based on experiments that show the tortured say anything to stop the torture. Hayden argues that enhanced interrogation is supplemented by an interrogator’s known intelligence to determine whether the tortured is telling the truth. Hayden clearly comes down on the side of enhanced interrogation techniques for actionable intelligence.
To this reviewer, Hayden deludes himself in believing drone killing, enhanced interrogation, and cutting the head off terrorist organizations will win wars. Hayden makes an insightful distinction between the “close game” and the “deep game”. NSA and the CIA may be able to refine their success in a “close game” but they are losing the “deep game”.
America needs to lead by example. Torturing or killing terrorists does not change the underlying cultural reality that leads other countries to bad leaders and/or totalitarian governments.
This is not to say, Osama bin Laden did not deserve to die but killing him and other Al Qaeda leaders did not stop the terrorist movement; i.e. at best, it delayed the terrorist’s “close game”. Isis is a spin-off of Al Qaeda. When al-Baghdadi is killed, unless the underlying discontent of the Middle East is addressed, a new movement will replace al-Baghdadi; with equally ruthless leaders. The NSA and CIA are necessary organizations but they do not win wars.
Intelligence is an important tool for understanding other cultures. It is cultural understanding that will lead to peace; not covert action to kill those who believe something different.
America cannot remove themselves from the terrorist fight when the terrorist movement chooses to play a “close game”. But, America must protect itself from the delusion that the American way is the only way. That delusion reduces Americans to the level of terrorists. Americans need to focus on the “deep game” by being an example and facilitator for democratic freedom and rule of law. Peace can only come through cultural understanding and acceptance.