MICHELLE ENGLISH: Greetings and welcome. I'm Michelle English, and on behalf of the MIT Center for International Studies, I'd like to welcome you to this evening's star forum. We are honored to have with us, General Michael Hayden to discuss his latest book, The Assault On Intelligence-- American National Security in an Age of Lies. We're selling his book, and there will be time to get your book signed at the end of the event.
We also have several upcoming events that we hope you're able to attend, including one next Thursday, October 4th on citizenship under attack. Details for this talk and others are available on our website, or you can pick up a flyer at the entrance and also sign up to get email notices if you haven't already. In our typical fashion, today's talk will begin with our speaker, followed by a conversation between the speaker and the discussant, and conclude with Q&A from the audience.
For those asking questions, please line up behind the mics. And we ask that you be considerate of time and others who want to ask a question. And a reminder that this will be a question and answer session, not a personal statement session. I'd like to begin by introducing our discussant, Joel Brenner. Joel is the former head of counterintelligence under the Director of National Intelligence, and was senior counsel at the National Security Agency.
He's the author of American the Vulnerable, Inside the New Threat Matrix of Digital Espionage, Crime, and Warfare, and the principal author of the MIT report called, Keeping America Safe Toward More Secure Networks for Critical Sectors. He's a research affiliate at both the MIT Center for International Studies, and C Sales internet policy research initiative. Please join me in welcoming Joel Brenner.
JOEL BRENNER: Thanks, Michelle. It's a pleasure and an honor for me to introduce to you a military and civilian servant of our republic who has served us for more than 40 years. And I emphasize of our republic, because in the times we are in, we are once again confronted with first principles and with the strengths and weaknesses of our form of government, which is now put in front of us every day in the most forceful and often distasteful way imagined.
I'm not going to recite general Hayden's biography for you. I will only say this-- that he's a man of wide and deep liberal education. He is the only man or person in our history who's been the head of both the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. I had the good fortune to be hired by him to be his Inspector General.
And I think I can say, probably the only case in the history of our government, where an Inspector General and the head of an agency actually got to like each other, became friends. Working for him was a pleasure and honor. And it's a pleasure and honor for me to introduce him to you today. Please welcome Michael V. Hayden. General Hayden.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Thanks for the opportunity to be with you here this evening, and thank you for all for braving the weather and coming in here. I think the order of March is, Joel said that I can talk for about 20 minutes to kind of set the framework of the book. And then have our conversation between the two of us, and then most importantly between all of us. I do look forward to the commentary questions and discussions that will follow.
So let me talk a little bit about the book. First of all, the title, that's double entendre up there on the top line. OK a thought on intelligence and in all meanings of the word. American National Security in an Age of Lies, OK, that's pretty straightforward in terms of a judgment as to where we are. So the book begins, I reminisce about being in Sarajevo during the third Balkan war of the last 100 years or so.
And Sarajevo was a beautiful city. And if you just kind of sit back and look at the skyline, you can look at all the Austrian era government buildings. And then the skyline is interrupted by steeples, onion shaped domes, and minarets. This had been a vibrant tolerant city. I was walking around it 10 years after it had hosted the Winter Olympics-- if you recall that from 1984.
But of course, it was by and large a destroyed city when I was walking through it. If you were walking along the Miljacka River there, passed the magnificent National Library, near the spot where Princip killed the Archduke. You look up in the hills and you see Serbian artillery. Now you look down here, you see the results of the Serbian artillery in the streets below. What struck me as I walked through Sarajevo was not how much the Sarajevo seemed different from us. It actually was the opposite-- how much they didn't seem different from us.
Again, this has been a vibrant multicultural tolerant beautiful city, and here we are. And so I think, a conclusion I took out of that walkabout-- and frankly a lot of other points in my career because our government sends people like me to places that are generally not happy. The thought that struck me was that the veneer of civilization is actually quite thin. And it appears to be naturally occurring for anyone who's had the life experience most of the people in this room have had, it is not.
And the veneer of civilization is something that has to be protected and nurtured. Now I quickly add, I'm not predicting societal collapse or civil war here in North America, but I am worried. And I begin-- I pivot quickly, then. I'm worried about the question of truth, and that's what the whole core theme of the book is. I enjoyed writing it. If you pick it up and read it, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did researching and putting the thoughts down. It's through the lens of an Intel guy, but I got to talk to folks I would not normally talk to.
Historians, philosophers. Historians of philosophy, philosophers of history, and just a whole variety of folks. And based upon my own background and then talking to folks a lot more about this, in essence, what is going on now, in large part throughout the West, is a rejection of the way of thinking that developed in the 16th and 17th century in the Enlightenment. And I don't want to over overemphasize that, but frankly, it's true.
Western man, after that period, generally was pragmatic, experimental, fact-based, observation, hypothesis, adjustment, repeat. All right? In other words, our definition of truth, by and large, was the best working theory we could develop at the moment of objective reality. And I said that very carefully, because obviously, the discovery of objective reality is a process, not an end point. But it was objective reality that we were trying to reflect before we made any important decisions.
And that dynamic is what I think is under threat. Now, that should concern anybody in the Western intellectual tradition, but it really, really should concern Americans. If Germany backs away from the values of the Enlightenment, it's still Germany. If we back away from the values in the Enlightenment, we are no longer America.
America was a concept under which we build a nation, not the other way around. And so if you remove the concept, you remove the basic, fundamental character. The people who put this thing together were fundamentally scholars of the Enlightenment, the Jeffersons, Madisons, Hamiltons, Jays, Masons of the world, and they put this structure together based upon Enlightenment values. In other words, we can only govern ourselves as a republic if we all have a broad confidence in the pursuit of truth, and broad agreement that we can arrive at a generalized understanding of what constitutes truth. And that's what I think is under threat.
So I use a motto now in talking about the book that's actually not in the book, but it's a pretty efficient way of getting many of the main themes out there. I talk about this thing I'm talking about being a three-layer cake, with each layer being slightly smaller than the one below. So you have a basic layer that's quite large, a second layer, and then a little third layer at the top.
The basic layer, and therefore the most important one, is frankly us. All right? It is the American population, where our political culture is moving in the direction of a post-truth reality.
"Post-truth" was the Oxford dictionary Word of the Year for 2016, and it is defined as decision-making based less on fact, evidence, and data, and more on feeling, preference, emotion, tribe, loyalty, grievance. And think about that for a minute, and then we're go-- yep, that's kind of where we're going. Now, there are lots of reasons for it, all right?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: There are technical reasons, and I'll try to touch on them. If not here, maybe in the Q&A with Joel. There are economic reasons. I spent a lot of time in the book actually explaining that the winds of globalization have been at my back for 50 years. But the people I grew up with, I'm from Western Pennsylvania, the winds of globalization have largely been in their face.
And the uneven effects of globalization have created grievances not fundamentally economic. More cultural than economic, but grievances nonetheless. Which then creates the conditions for people with simple answers appealing to grievance, and tribe, and loyalty to actually make that case.
So most of the people I talked to sound like everybody in the room. We kind of agree broadly on things. And so in researching the book, I figured, I've got to go get the other side. So I asked my brother in Pittsburgh if he would fill the back room of a Pittsburgh sports bar on a Steeler weekend so that I could go up there and talk to folks who might view this differently.
My brother-- Harry is his name. Harry overachieved. He filled about 45 folks in the room. I'm convinced now that all of them had gun racks and red baseball caps in their trucks.
Many of them were relatives.
A significant fraction more I'd gone to high school with. And then everyone else had the same socializing experience that I had in Western Pennsylvania, until-- by the way, driving up on the turnpike, my wife was saying, now, don't get into an argument with these people. Just ask open-ended questions. Let them talk.
So we were there 2 and 1/2 hours, and then we all had to go down to Heinz Field. It was the Steeler Weekend, right? We're not going to miss kickoff. And we're getting in the car, and my wife turns to me after the 2 and 1/2 hours and goes, I can't believe you took that stuff.
Why didn't you respond? You told me-- OK. So what did I find? 1, hardworking, go to church, go to work, join the PTA, make their kids do their homework, pay their taxes, volunteer. And if I had a flat tire outside of that bar, they'd have stopped and fixed it, help me fix it.
More veterans, or parents, or children of veterans in that room than any green room or boardroom I have been in since I left government. So let's make sure we know what we're talking about here. Who we're talking about. All right?
These are people who fight the nation's wars. All right? And so one of-- and we have a long, extended dialogue. And one of the questions I asked was, oh, come on, how many of you really think Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower?
I mean, almost unanimous. I go, you're kidding. I used to run NSA.
I know how this kind of works. And I made the point, number 1, they wouldn't do it. But number 2, the plumbing doesn't work that way. They almost certainly couldn't do it.
And what makes-- what evidence do you have? And I just looked at the group, what evidence do you have? And one person in the front row, about where are you, sir, just kind of looks at me and goes, "Obama."
That's it, OK? [INAUDIBLE] QED. All right, [INAUDIBLE] has been demonstrated. I mean, that's-- where do you get your news? "Facebook." OK?
So we've got uneven effects of globalization. We've got people who feel culturally disrespected. Not just economically, but culturally disrespected. They have genuine grievances, the uneven effects of globalization. All right?
We've got this post-truth drift, in which tribe means a lot more than data. You know, "Obama." Right? And then added onto that was the technical development of how they get the news, which is Facebook or any social media.
I was invited by the Nobel Committee to go to Gothenburg, Sweden, in December of last year to give a talk during the Nobel Weekend. They're handing out the prizes in Stockholm, and in Gothenburg, they're having a day-long seminar on truth.
Let that wash over you, OK? The Nobel Committee invites the former head of the American Central Intelligence Agency to come to Sweden to talk to the Nobel group about truth in the 21st Century. Talk about weird.
So I do my 10-, 12-minute TED Talk. It was fine. But I went there to learn, and there were wonderful scholars there. And there was one, a woman named Zeynep Tufekci, who is Turkish by birth, North Carolinian by choice.
And she's an expert on social media. And she gave me a wonderful metaphor that I cite in the book, but it's just great. She says, social media is a lot like Doritos. OK? I can make this work, hang on.
A Dorito is only pretending to be a tortilla. In reality, it is a delivery mechanism for salt and fat, which of course, creates a craving for more salt and fat. And so you go into the social media. It knows you at least as well as you know yourself.
The business model for social media is to keep you there, keep you on the site. The ROI is based upon the clicks, and so it gives you something that's pleasing to you. But the longer you're there, the more you want salt and fat.
And the algorithm, the core algorithm, keeps giving you salt and fat, defined in this case as more firmly-held, more extreme versions of that with which you entered the enterprise in the first place. So rather than pulling you in the direction of the global commons to have a discussion, what it does is it pulls you into the darkest corners of your own self-defined ghetto. And that creates the great division, right?
One other aspect about layer number 1. Again, I got to talk to people I would never have talked to in the book. I talked to Ed Luce, Financial Times correspondent here in the United States. Brilliant observer of the American scene. Actually, accidental meeting on the Acela, and we had quite a great chat, and we've continued our conversations.
In his book on what's happening in American democracy, he has a wonderful description. He said, Marx had it exactly wrong. It is the elites of the world who are uniting, and it is the workers of the world who are reaching for their national flags.
And I would offer you the proposition that Luce makes is that many people in this room are probably more comfortable with their European counterparts than they are with some sections of the American population in the American heartland. Put another way, I am more comfortable watching [INAUDIBLE] play at Daimler-Benz Stadium in Stuttgart in the Bundesliga than I am going to NASCAR. And that's just a fact.
So layer 1, the biggest layer, most important. Layer 2 is the administration. Layer 2 is the president. And simply put, to get to the premise of the book here very quickly, objective reality is not the instinctive departure point for what Donald Trump says or does. It's something else.
I was talking to a PDB briefer, President's Daily Brief. Retired, so not an active one, and actually a scholar of the process. So somebody who knows what he's talking about.
And he said, Mike, we've had presidents who have argued with us. And trust me, that was my experience with George W. Bush. He would argue about what really is objective reality. And, no, I don't think that's right. And, we know how to do that.
We've had presidents who simply lie. And the Nixonian image comes to mind. They don't argue about objective reality, they just go do something different and say something different. It's not an argument. They just they just lie about it.
He offered the view that President Trump isn't either of those, OK? He said, do you remember President Trump gave the speech to the Boy Scouts in West Virginia in the summer of 2017? I'm seeing some folks nod here. Yeah.
Y'all agree, a little over-the-top for 12-year-olds? OK, that was a broad consensus. Yeah, so there's criticism of the speech.
President comes back, (MURMURING). All the talk radio, and 7 by 24's are playing the criticism of the speech. So the president comes out and says, hey look, the leadership of the Boy Scouts called me and told me it was the greatest speech ever given at their Jamboree.
And the PDB briefer says to me, now, you know that didn't happen, right? I said, yeah, I know that didn't happen. He said, great. Good. Do you think he does?
No, no, I'm serious. Do you think he does? Does the thought process there make a distinction between the past I need and the past that happened?
And the answer is, yeah, maybe not. Which is a little bit different from lying. The departure point is something different than an argument over objective reality.
I was in a large session yesterday. Don't put too much into this, but Bob Woodward was talking, OK? Flacking his book. Like I'm doing mine.
And he brings up an incident that's actually been widely reported in his book, where the president says, the WTO-- we've got to get out of the WTO. We never win our cases in the WTO. At which point, his staff says, actually, Mr. President, we win 85.2% of all cases and the W--
No we don't. That's not right. That's bu-- and so on, and so forth, and some other short words.
And, no it's not. I don't want to hear about that ever again. I mean, he just-- it's just not the departure point.
Again, I looked at and talked about things I never thought I'd talk about. I ran across the concept of metacognition, which is, in my layman's terms, the ability to think about your thinking. The ability to get outside of yourself and look at yourself.
A playwright or a director goes, ooh, that scene's not working. A singer, I really can't make that note. Right? It allows you to just based upon reality, even though you're the-- you're your own reality. If you lack metacognition, the academic literature says you don't know when to shut up. You just keep digging.
OK, so I'll give you an example. So I was pushing another book I wrote about two years ago, and I'm on the Bill Maher show out in California. And Maher says in my interview, this candidate, Trump, says he's not going to kill just terrorists, he's going to kill their families too.
And I go, that's not happening, and I go through the laws of armed conflict, and so on. Well, the next week, they're having one of those endless Republican debates, and Bret Baier is the moderator, all right? And Bret Baier says, hey, this Hayden fellow said they're not going to kill civilians.
And then candidate Trump responds, oh no, I'm a leader. I'm a real leader. People listen to me. If I tell people to do things, they do things. And then Baier kind of says, "war crime." OK?
And violation of international law. At which point-- remember the metacognition, the inability to think about your thinking, keep on talking? At which point, the candidate says, oh no. Look, those 9/11 hijackers, their families knew what was going on.
They were in this country, and they flew out of this country a couple of days before the attacks so they could get to wherever it was they were coming from and watch what their husbands were doing on TV. That's pure bullshit, OK? There is no reality attached to that whatsoever. But that's what somebody who doesn't have metacognition does.
One more example to get-- I mean, the whole book's about this, so there are a lot more examples in the book. But one more example. John Dickerson, Face the Nation before they swapped out, and he-- now he's doing the weekday show in New York. Dickerson is doing a one-on-one in the Oval with the president. They're going back and forth, and John is good at his job, so he's asking good questions and trying to force the president to answers.
And then they get to the very end, and he says-- asked the question I asked in the bar. What evidence do you have that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower? At this point, the president won't answer, and he, kind of in a fit of pique, gets up, walks over, plants himself behind the resolute desk, starts picking up some papers, and acting-- being president, you know?
But Dickerson stalks him. And he looked at him again and says, what evidence do you have? And the president responds, a lot of people agree with me. A lot of people are saying. If I can make it trending, it is a sufficient basis for action. And I cannot give you a more crisp definition of what happens in a post-truth environment.
That's the second layer. The third layer is the Russians, all right? But after layer 1 and 2, eh, who cares?
All right, I'm making too much-- too light of it. But the Russians are the least of our problems. And if I'm doing numbers, they're the top 20%. Layers 1 and 2 are the bottom 80%.
If the Russians-- if we were ever to do anything like what the Russians did, we would call it a covert influence campaign. And the physics of a covert influence campaign are very clear. You never create a division in a society. You identify preexisting divisions, and you exploit and worsen the preexisting divisions.
So the Russians actually tried this on Norway. It doesn't work. A little more homogeneous society, a little more-- society. A little more at peace with itself. Nothing happens.
But it happens here. All right? Now, you know the history. I'm not going to rehearse the history. They did do it. There's no question about it.
Their motives were to mess with our heads. Check. To punish Hillary Clinton, because he hates her. Check. To de-legitimize the inevitable President Clinton. Check.
Holy smoke, this other guy could win. I wonder if we can push votes in his direction. Check. OK? That's all true. That is unarguable.
The whole thing about, did anybody help him? We'll wait for Bob Mueller. Did it throw the election to Donald Trump? I don't know.
You ask my professional judgment, unarguably, it affected the election. But now the question is, how much did it affect it? And my answer is, I don't know.
And it's not just unknown, it is unknowable. So actually, we ought to be done talking about that. That's no longer interesting. Donald Trump is the legitimate President of the United States.
I know how to count. I know the electoral college works. That's how we decide these things. But the Russian efforts still continue. But we are an easy, easy target because of layers 1 and 2.
Let me-- and Joel, I'll stop in a minute here. But as you see, the one final example to kind of show you how layers 1, 2, and 3 kind of interact. OK? A year ago, almost to the day, President Trump was in Huntsville, Alabama.
He'd kind of had a bad week, and he's taking energy from the crowd. And if you're in Alabama, talk patriotism and football and it generally always works. And that's the speech where he did the Colin Kaepernick, the knee and everything, and you've got to fire the SOB's, and so on. All right?
Put the merits of the issue aside, the dynamics that I'm trying to describe. Before Air Force One gets to the East Coast that evening, the three leading hashtags in Russian control botnets are #NFL, #TakeTheKnee, and #TakeAKnee. And by the way, the Russians are saying it takes great, or it's less filling.
They're going with the patriotic argument or the free speech argument. The outcome is uninteresting. They just want tension.
That it almost immediately picked up by the alt-right media here in the United States. Infowars, Alex Jones, Gateway Pundit. And the alt-right media here takes it racial real fast, hence the demographics of the NFL.
Also, my Steelers get wrapped in this. Remember Alejandro Villanueva, Army Ranger, out there at the face of the runway? The team had decided not to go out. I actually have a relationship with the Steelers. I know what happened.
Alejandro was not trying to break team unity. But as a Ranger, he wanted to at least-- so he's at the mouth of the runway with the team just a few feet behind him. But they take that iconic picture of the Army Ranger in the Steeler uniform. His jersey, by the way, sells out on nfl.com within about 48 hours.
And the alt-right media picks that up and begins to talk about the Steelers' Head Coach, Mike Tomlin, African-American. And it just deepens the racial content of what the alt-right is doing with this cycle. Then it bleeds over into mainstream media via Fox. I don't know this for a fact, but I'm willing to bet it was via Sean Hannity as the first hit.
And then it bleeds out within Fox to the other non-news portions of the Fox network. And then the president watches it with Fox and Friends on a weekday morning and tweets out his support. Now, none of that is collusion. I call it convergence.
It all goes to the same end. We are a more divided society than we would otherwise be. It is harder for us to compromise than it would have been otherwise. But everyone does it for their own purposes.
The president, for the base. The Russians, to mess with our heads. The alt-right, because they're conspiratorial. And Fox, to boost ratings. But it all leads in the same direction.
By the way, this is a totally artificial crisis. You realize, the NFL doesn't start its bye weekend until October. So in September, the Sunday before the president gave his speech, all 32 teams are playing.
There are 53 people who suit-up per team. Do the math, it's about 1,700. So 1,700 American athletes suited up for the NFL the weekend before the president's speech.
How many did not stand at attention? 6. This is not a national crisis. But it's a nice little morality play as to how this works, and what's going on in a post-truth, divisive kind of environment.
There's a lot more to be said. What are the fact-bearers to do in this kind of world? How do we respond to this? How do we get better?
But I think that'll come up in our conversation. So let me stop now and invite Joel back up, and we'll go ahead and have a chat. Thank you all very much.
JOEL BRENNER: Well, that was a-- you've now had a small taste of what it was like to work for General Hayden.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah. I did that and said, go fix that, come back, and report tomorrow.
JOEL BRENNER: Yeah, right? General, you, as I indicated earlier, were in public service, most of it as a military man for more than 40 years. I don't think in my many years in Washington I've known anybody more discipline than you are about what to say and what not to say, and how to say things in a constructive and a non-inflammatory way. You're now out there saying that the Trump campaign normalized lying to an unprecedented degree, and that the President of the United States would be what in Russian intelligence terms would be "a useful idiot."
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah.
JOEL BRENNER: What happened?
JOEL BRENNER: This must have been-- I'm serious. This is a watershed for you.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: No, not a watershed. A process, OK? So I was on-- I enjoy talking on TV, all right? And I went out there for a purpose.
I would offer you the view that American espiona-- there is no other activity in American life more essential and less understood than American espionage. And so it was just a commitment on my part, if I'm asked, I'll go and talk.
Now, I'm under contract to CNN now. But for 8 and 1/2 years, it was just-- I'd just answer the phone. And I said, yeah, I'll come on in and talk. And oh, by the way, the intelligence community was really happy because I was more free to talk.
You can't say "secrets," but I don't have the political constraints that they have. So I could go out there and try to explain things. So I'm up there before the candidate starts to run.
But then I started getting asked questions about him. Well, is that right? No, that's not true. How about-- no, no, that's that how that works. And so just responding as the fact witness, which is what I view myself to be, puts me in a position of being in opposition-- well, I made my case as to why so many things aren't fact-based.
I mean, one pretty early on was the unmasking of US identities in intelligence reports. And you know all about the art and science of that. Recall this, and Susan Rice, and US identities, and intercepts. And, ah-- and it's just-- I'm on everyone.
That's so normal. That is so routine. That is so average, I-- you can only be alarmed by that if you don't understand how it works. Next, CNN hit, before they asked me to do it for-- under a contract, was an 8- to 12-minute discussion with Anderson Cooper explaining how it works. So I always see myself as a fact witness.
Now, what happens Joel-- this is hard. Because the longer we go and the more you state the facts, the more you look like the opposition. And then you begin to start to smell like the resistance. And so what I've told CNN, and I've pretty much stuck to this, although sometimes it's hard, I will answer any question you ask me about what the president says, what the president does. Do not ask me who the president is.
And I've tried to stay clear of that. The "useful idiot" thing was The Washington Post a-- this is their invitation, asked me to write an op-ed that appeared in the Post on the Friday before the election, and would I explore all these seemingly complex, but unexplained relationships between the Trump campaign and the Russian Federation. And this is before we knew all we know now.
But even then, there's a lot of stuff. So I connected all the dots and said, I'm at a loss to explain it. And I know Trump supporters are going to be offended by what I'm going to say now, but trust me, this is the most benign interpretation I can come up with, with regard to the evidence in front of me. I believe the Russians feel that Mr. Trump is what was called in the Soviet period a [SPEAKING RUSSIAN], "the useful idiot." All right?
Our phrase is probably "fellow traveler." All right? Someone whom they secretly held in contempt, but who is very naive, and whom they were very willing to manipulate for their own ends. I got asked that question yesterday, and-- but people wanted-- it was not on air. But people wanted me to say something darker, that there was leverage, there was kompramat, or something.
And I said, I don't need leverage. I don't need kompramat. Until Bob Mueller comes out and shows me something more, [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] is an adequate explanation for our policy towards the Federation.
JOEL BRENNER: Let's stick with truth and the main themes. I think of your book, which if I could extract, would be that institutions are fragile, and that they sustain civilized life. The truth matters, and therefore, language matters. Because the assault on truth begins with an assault on language.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yep.
JOEL BRENNER: And that the Intelligence Enterprise, in which you spent so many years of your career, is also based on fact. You then quote a professor, Tom Nichols at the Naval War College, as follows. "The United States is now a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance." What's the future of the Intelligence Enterprise, when so many of our fellow citizens, and the president himself, don't seem to believe in any of the three things you found essential?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah. So that's why I wrote the book. What are we going to do about this? So it's largely descriptive, and I try to get off stage making some recommendations.
So-- god, so many things to be said about that. That's a very open-ended question. Well done.
Number 1, it's not been a bad couple of years for institutional America. All right? The institutions of our government, imperfect as they are, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the intelligence community, American journalism, all have their faults. And that's one of the problems. Since they do have their faults, people try to de-legitimize them for any errors that may have occurred in process.
But they've actually stood up pretty well. And I would say so far, so good. But this is hard. I mean, one of the most remarkable developments, Joel, is that constitutionally, Congress should be the brake on a president who is either acting autocratically or simply unwise.
And so I get it, the president gets the carve-out in our tariff laws to impose a tariff on Canadian steel for national security reasons. But Congress can take the power away. Congress-- it's in the law, Congress can overrule it. The Congress has it.
So the constitutional brake on the president is unused. And weirdest of all, the opposition to the president, which is coming from within his own Executive Branch, coming from the agencies and departments of the Executive Branch. The president is going to his allies in Congress to try to pressure the institutions of his Executive Branch, to rein them in when he personally can't bring them to heel.
Now, you and I have been in front of Congress a long time. We have never seen that dynamic before in our history. So the institutions-- I mean-- I began to talk for a specific reason. The Enlightenment values are essential to the identity, our current identity, as a people.
We are a creedle nation. Who's an American? Read the document, understand the document, swear to the document, you're in.
Not blood, soil, or shared history. And there are good countries in the world for whom national identity is blood, soil, and shared history. Germany is one. France, somewhat the same. Not bad countries, just not us. And so if you don't accept the Enlightenment ideas, if you don't accept the values that underpin the foundational documents, we begin to change our self-definition.
JOEL BRENNER: You talk a lot in the book about pervasive distrust in our country now, and you attribute it to two factors. One is the low esteem in which so many Americans hold our government. That is to say, our governmental institutions. And also, the crowd versus the expert. The pervasive influence of social media.
And you tell the following story. "We live in a world where we increasingly trust our Facebook friends and the Twitter crowd more than we do the IMF, or the prime minister, or," you add, "the intelligence community." What's the future of intelligence agencies in a world like that? This is a subject you bring up, and then you don't say much about in your book.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: You mentioned Tom Nichols.
JOEL BRENNER: Yeah.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Tom tells a story. By the way, if you want to follow an entertaining Twitter account, plug-in to Tom Nichols, all right? It's really quite something. But Tom tells-- I think it's in Tom's book.
Again, I've read a lot, but I would not be approached as an Intel guy. And Tom talks about a particular scientist at an institution somewhat like this giving a talk, and it's about some really deep question about the origins of the universe, or some equally difficult subject. And he gets into a one-v-one with a particular student, they go back and forth. And at the end, the student closes off the conversation by simply saying, well, your guess is as good as mine. At which point, the professor says, that's simply not true.
And he's right. He admits it's a guess, but his is not as good as his. And yet, we live in a society-- elites have been discredited. All right? You've got a war in Iraq based on a national intelligence estimate that was wrong. You've got a financial meltdown based upon flawed econo-- I mean, there are reasons that confidence in elites has eroded.
But as the American public has discarded the elites, they have discarded the expertise that usually accompanies elites, and therefore, believe that-- again, my guess is as good as yours, and off you go. And the sadness, Joel, I want to try to describe is the president plays on that. Now, by the way, brilliantly.
And remember the social media, and the torti-- Doritos, and-- I mean, how did the president communicate during the campaign? Via social media, using that same appeal to grievance that the algorithm is set up to reinforce. I mean, it was genuinely brilliant.
It's just-- very often wrong, in fact-- I'm sorry, I'll be very brief. But the whole refugee thing, OK, the campaign said that refugees represented an apocalyptic threat to the United States, and our system for vetting refugees was absolutely dystopian. None of that is true. There is no data to support either ends of that premise, but it appealed to a country that had discarded expertise, was distrustful of elites, and had its own nativist reasons for being suspicious of people not like us.
JOEL BRENNER: Let me push a little bit, though, on how this phenomenon may be affecting the intelligence business itself. I mean, It seems to me that although the intelligence community never had a monopoly on important information, it had a corner on a part of that market. And the part of the market on which it has a corner has shrunk quite dramatically, that it has lost the-- well, there are lots of people with secret information where lots of information is no longer secret.
No longer secret, right? It's hard to keep secrets, as we've talked about often. How's this going to affect the contours of the intelligence business?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah, so-- that's actually-- that's a great question. It's not one addressed in the book. And I actually had conceptually a chapter on this as to-- in addition to all the things going on, my layer cake and all that, there's also a significant churn inside, well, what is the meaning of intelligence? Right?
Intelligence gets to talk first at the meeting. All right? No matter what meeting you go in, hey Intel, what do you got? Right? And Intelligence talked first at the meeting to set the situation.
And you asked Intelligence to set the situation because almost all the time, an accurate view of the situation depended on information you had to steal. It depended on espionage. That is no longer nearly as true as it used to be. And it's not because of leaks. It's simply because we live in an information age.
And those things that used to be not accessible except through subornation of someone or intercepting a communication, most of that's now readily available. And so the case I would have made in the chapter, Joel, is that if we, the Intel guys, continually view ourselves as the teller of secrets, our role is going to be sharply diminished over time. And that we have to define ourselves, as we should have all along, as the teller of truth. Some of which is based upon secrets we have stolen, but other parts of which are based on things we have learned but not stolen.
But that proportion is going to change, so it does require a redefinition of the intelligence community. But it's not an argument over truth. It's not an argument over the pursuit of objective reality. It's just a description that that pursuit has changed in nature. And much more of what it is you need to talk to a policy-maker just doesn't have to be stolen anymore.
JOEL BRENNER: Let me ask you-- bring this to a close and let the audience have a chance. But I want to throw another one at you and go back to Pittsburgh. Those encounters that you mentioned briefly a few minutes ago were both amusing and really sobering.
And how do we get out of this? How does the United States-- you seem pessimistic in your book about our ability as a nation to organize ourselves mentally and governmentally in order to deal with this problem. And one thinks, for example, of really deep strategic thinking like NSC-68 during the Cold War. And a marvelous document.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Wonderful document.
JOEL BRENNER: If anybody doesn't know it, it's not-- hasn't been classified for many, many years. It's the document that lays out, under the Eisenhower administration, the strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union at all kinds of levels. It is a very thoughtful, serious document. Do you see anything like that coming down the pike?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: So NSC-68 was written by the Defense and State Department at the direction of President Truman. It was, in essence, what's the plan? And Paul Nitze calls a huddle and they craft the document.
Joel's right, it's-- yeah, it's magnificent. And I actually downloaded it and re-read it as part of the book, because I was comparing NSC-68 with President Trump's National Security Strategy, which is actually a decent document, all right? But NSC-68 is an homage to diversity.
I mean, it just talks about diversity as being an essential American value, and that the American democracy cannot survive in a broader world in which diversity is not valued. And it makes the argument, in contrary to "America First," or the speech today at the UN, It makes the argument that if we are going to-- American security is dependent upon our creating a world that is at least not hostile, but perhaps even friendly to American values and the approach to governance.
And we're not seeing that anymore. Now, I-- there are all sorts of parts in the book. I talk about Walter Russell Mead and his definition of American presidents as being Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, Jeffersonian, Jacksonian. I won't go into it, but it's worth a read, because it begins to answer this question.
But let me give you another thought, all right? So again, I talked to a lot of folks who I would not normally have talked to. I'm History by background, B.A. And M.A., so I'm-- and it's in US history. So I'm broadly familiar. But I pressed the test. I put this in front of folks whose judgment I trust.
And I said, so who's Donald Trump like? I said, how about Huey Long? And my interlocutor said, "Father Coughlin."
OK? And then we got into a conversation-- Father Coughlin, Catholic priest, nativist, a bit racist. Very popular. Unarguably populist. OK?
Then I said, so have we seen this movie before? And he says, yeah, I think so. And we had a conversation. I'll give you the sum. Rather than trying to recreate a narrative, I'll give you the sum total of the conversation.
William Jennings Bryan. And here's the linchpin. And this is really an answer to your question, Joel. What was happening in the 1890s was America attempting an adjustment from the institutions of government that were sufficient for governing an agricultural society, and reinventing those institutions to make them sufficient to govern an industrial society.
Not unlike today, we're trying to reinvent the institutions sufficient for governing an industrial society and make them suited for governing a post-industrial, information, interconnected, dare I say, "globalized," despite what was said at the UN today, society. And we're going through a similar struggle. So William Jennings Bryan runs as a populist.
And he's a real populist, all right? He's from Nebraska. Never a man of means. Genuinely believes in what he campaigns on.
And fundamentally, his campaign is to reject the movement from an agricultural to an industrial society. He wants to monetize silver. He wants to inflate the currency, which would then undercut the financial institutions needed to continue modernization into an industrial world, but preserves his agricultural constituency and his agricultural base.
JOEL BRENNER: And he prosecuted Scopes.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah. Well, that comes later, but yeah. There's this old-time religion wrapped into it as well in the Monkey Trial in Tennessee later. But as a presidential candidate, he runs twice. And fundamentally, it's about stopping industrialization.
He loses, and we get McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt, who are about adapting to the realities of industrialization. And we get on with it. All right? Now, that's bold colors, wide brush, but that's fundamentally true.
Jennings wanted to stop the going-forward. He lost. The equivalent of Jennings, Donald Trump, wins. And today at the UN, he said, we reject globalization, which is not possible.
One has to deal with globalization. So the distinction is that we got on with it in the 1890s and had some fairly heroic presidents, particularly Roosevelt. Right? We have not yet got on with it in the 21st century, but the challenge is very similar. So there's a certain sense of "getting on with it."
JOEL BRENNER: Thank you. I think now, let's have folks ask questions. The mics are open. The floor is open. And I'll let you handle the-- no, you don't need me for it. You're good at it.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: First up?
AUDIENCE: Thank you very much for being here. It's fascinating to hear somebody who knows so much about history and intelligence, and I'm looking forward to reading your book. I just finished reading David Sanger's book The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age.
It's very revealing to me, because what he exposes to me, at least for me, which you probably already understood, of course, but it's a big secret, we're actively engaged across the world in warfare of a different kind. Cyber warfare. And it's escalating. And I think the American public doesn't appreciate that. What do you think of this?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Sure. So I have not read David's book. I know David very well, and so we've talked a lot about it. So I think I have a good understanding what's in there.
And it is actually connected to the theme of this one up here, who talk about the Russians and what they did. Back in February-- Dan Coats is the Director of National Intelligence. And all of his three-letters, CIA, NSA, they're testifying to the Senate about-- it's the Global Threat Briefing. It's a routine briefing.
And one of the senators asked Coats, has the president given you specific instructions to go ahead and take care of what the Russians were doing? And Coats says, nope, he hasn't. And then they go down the line. Nope, nope, nope, nope, no. Which is-- that's a sadness, all right?
The next week, Mike Rogers, who's the head of Cyber Command at NSA, he's in front of a different committee and says, you said the president hasn't given you the direction to go do something about the Russians. If you get the OK, what would you do?
And Mike responds, well, they haven't suffered enough. We have not punished them enough for their actions, so they're not dissuaded from continuing their activity. The next week, Mike's successor, Paul Nakasone, is testifying to another committee for his confirmation. Gets asked the same question, gives the same answer.
Let me decode that for you. These two heads of Cyber Command were looking for a legal and policy framework with political guidance to routinely conduct activity in the digital domain above the threshold of normal espionage, but just below the threshold of what anyone would define as armed conflict. That's a big idea, and it had been rejected by President Trump's Cyber Team earlier, two fellows I know who were both fired when John Bolton came in.
And if you read what Bolton said late last week, he's saying, we're going to get on with it. So watch this space. It's going to be pretty interesting, because it was rejected by President Trump's original cyber guys.
Because you don't know what the third and fourth moves look like. All right? And the fear why cyber begets cyber, and we kind of live in a glass house. So a lot going on. That was a good question. Yes sir?
AUDIENCE: Well, the so-called "Age of Lies" didn't start in the post-truth era. Bush lied to us about Iraq, which killed hundreds of thousands. Obama lied to us about Libya, which killed tens of thousands.
LBJ and Nixon lied to us about Vietnam, which killed millions. We were lied to about the domestic surveillance metadata programs of your NSA. So the elites brought this on themselves, didn't they, by their continual and endless mendacity for their own ends?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Well, I'd reject quite a few of the premises of your question. Let me just pick one, Bush. President Bush didn't lie. President Bush was wrong.
I was in the room when the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was approved. We acted in good faith. We believed that's what was going on in Iraq. Now, I take the point that that was certainly a welcome message in the White House, to be able to articulate a publicly available, easily-digestible reason for war. But it was our estimate.
Leon Panetta replaced me, and Leon had written while he was out of government about mendacity. And one of the last things I said to him was, Leon, I've read some of your writings while you were out of government. On the Iraq thing, don't put that on the vice president. Don't put that on the president.
That was us. We got it wrong. I actually used the phrase, "it was a clean swing and miss by us."
AUDIENCE: In which case, truth is worse than lies.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: No. Actually, my definition of truth was the continuous pursuit of an accurate picture of objective reality. And any version of the truth at any particular moment is your best theory of the case at that moment.
AUDIENCE: Tell that to--
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Sir?
AUDIENCE: Thank you. I'm a high school senior. Yeah. My question is, what was your reaction to the news that John Brennan was stripped of his security clearance by President Trump for opposing him publicly? I think the act-- the reason they put out was something different.
But what was your reaction to that? And why-- what is your-- sorry.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: "And why do you still have your clearance?" Right.
AUDIENCE: And are you worried about losing that? And in your opinion, why is it important for retired figures like yourself to have--
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah, thank you. I'm not sure John has lost his clearance, OK? Last heard, no one no one in the government has contacted John.
OK? So-- I mean, somebody in the government's got to fill in the paperwork. And there's a line in the paperwork that says "because." And although this is an absolute presidential authority, it is governed by an executive order that has 13 reasons that people can lose a clearance. And none-- I've read them all. And since I'm on the list. I paid attention to--
OK? And none of the reasons apply to John, all right? So I don't know that he has or hasn't. The reason we-- if I were to lose my clearance, the effect on me would be I would be able to do some pro-bono work I do for the Department of Defense and for CIA, going in and lecturing classes, three and four stars, for the Department of Defense for cyber warfare, and new senior executives for CIA on leadership.
I do that pro-bono, but it is at a classified level. And so the effect on me is I would no longer be able to do that, which is kind of the reason they keep us in a cleared status. We did not go rifle our old files en route to CNN so that we have a scoop that we can put on the air.
So this is-- I'll probably regret this once it gets reported to the White House, but it's mostly sound and fury. Not a whole lot of there there yet. Thank you. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: Thank you very much for your presentation today. I'm a graduate student at MIT. And I very much appreciate your advice on what we can do as a community and as individuals to make things better, and really try to promote-- make founding decisions based on truth.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah. So this is in the book, and very interesting. This is observation, OK? It's not a theory of the case. It's an observation.
The high-friction points of the Trump administration have been-- I mean, you can document this yourself. The high-friction have been with intelligence, law enforcement, the courts, science, scholarship, and journalism. And what do they have in common? They're all fact-based institutions.
Now, any of them could be corrupt. Very frequently, one or another, or all of them, are wrong. Right? But their only safe haven is the pursuit of truth. And so it's not surprising that that's where the high-friction points are with an administration that seems to be un-anchored to what you and I would call an "accepted view of objective reality."
I've got to add that I did Intel, science, scholarship, journalism, and so on. And I kind of held my hand up here like this, like we're all buds. Yeah.
For most of my life-- the intel's the thumb, right? For most of my life, this has not been my metaphor. That's been the way it's been for most of my life, with these other institutions shooting at us for the way we acquire information. For the way we acquire data.
You mentioned earlier surveillance. Renditions, detentions, interrogations. And so generally, my life experience has been these others kind of picking at us.
I've had no one here talk to me about how we get data for over three years. All they recognize now is we, like them, are data people. And we've got a fundamental issue about the rule of data.
Now, if we get this data thing worked out, we will get back to this directly, and we'll get back to the old arguments. But right now, the issue is the data folks have to hold their ground. So in answer to your question, you're both science and scholarship. Hold your ground.
State the truth as best you know it, again, understanding it can always be imperfect. It can always be wrong. But it's our best theory of the case at the moment as we try to reflect objective reality. And to hold your position on reality.
Refugees are statistically not a threat to the United States. All right? That's-- there's no data to support that theory. American alliances are a strategic advantage, not a strategic burden. Immigration on-balance is a national advantage to the United States that our European friends do not-- I mean, those are facts. And the fact-based people have to hold their position, OK? Yes?
AUDIENCE: Thank you. Good evening. So my name is Inez. I am a post-Doc here. And before I ask my question, I very briefly want to, if you allow, correct your image about Germany. It's really not anymore just about soil, and blood, and shared history, even though these elements were at some point very important.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah, good.
AUDIENCE: But I think we've moved on from those elements.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Thank you, thank you.
AUDIENCE: And so my question has to-- in fact, to do with your observation that having a divided society is so dangerous. So I'm wondering, and having listened to you very carefully, and I respect you in so many ways, and I can't wait to read your book. But how does your book contribute to building a unified society when you basically portray one part of the population, and I'm not just talking about this very interesting president, but also his supporters, as not quite on-par when it comes to intelligence, knowledge, and understanding of the world? You yourself said that some people are very much in a state of grievance, right?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: So how does that book help?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah, so I really do try to be very, very sensitive. And folks I think have no dog in the fight have told me that the book is actually reasonably respectful of the president. And he is the way God made him, and we accommodate all presidents. This combination is much larger than others.
So I do, again, try to maintain the-- a respectful dialogue. It's just not meant to solve all the world's problems. Even all the world's problems with regard to truth.
So the unifying principle, why is it in the book, why is it not in the book? Why do I let myself talk on CNN, which is a very untraditional thing for my tribe?
And it's-- I've actually discussed this with myself, with my wife, with other counterparts. So what are you doing here, and why are you doing this? And the crossover point for me is that this is not normal, and it cannot be allowed to pretend that it's normal.
And we cannot allow a population who cannot afford to do this all day, every day, which is what I do, to be lulled into the sense that this is actually acceptable behavior. And so I used the phrase in a panel a couple of weeks ago, an emergency break glass.
And so we know, and it's one of our challenges, how does one respond to the most norm-busting president in our history without violating the norms of your own institution or of your own vocation? And that is a constant stress point for us. But that's the purpose of the book. No, this is not normal.
There's a part-- if you read the book, there's a part in the book where I actually stop the narrative and say, I just re-read the last 100 words I wrote. Holy smoke. I mean, when you put it together, even though it's all publicly available, when you put it together you go, oh my god. That's remarkable.
And that-- anyway, I'm trying to ring the alarm. Trying to set up a flare for this particular aspect. The president is not particularly limited by law or constitution. The most important limits on the president are the norms of the office. And if you don't pay-- if you disregard the norms, we head towards a dark place.
JOEL BRENNER: Can I add one thing, though?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah, yeah. Please.
JOEL BRENNER: You know, I think one of the things that you do, and I think do well, is to make these arguments without being disrespectful to those people who are ta-- have taken it on the chin, in ter-- economically, or who are not members of the elite. And I think one of the things we're dealing with in this country right now is-- let me ask a question. How many people in here know somebody who's serving in the armed forces right now?
Oh, I'm surprised. That's great. That's really great. That's unusual in university audiences. That's terrific.
But I think part of the answer is, if I can be so bold as to step in, is not only to make these arguments, but to get to know and not be disrespectful of the rest of the country. It's amazing, I think, how little most of the people that I deal with know about what goes on in the rest of the country. And I think that's what's really interesting about your account of going back to Pittsburgh.
PRESENTER: Thank you. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Hello. First, thank you for coming here to speak. I am a senior at Clark University. I was just wondering if you feel that with the divide, that the mentality of "ignorance is bliss" is the way that Americans are coping with what's going on, rather than addressing it. Such as turn to social media, as you said with the Doritos comparison, seeing just what they want to see and ignoring the other way. Is that "ignorance is bliss" mentality dangerous, per se?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Well, again, if you've got structures of government based upon informed citizenry, which is the theory of The Federalist Papers-- by the way, I've read more of The Federalist Papers in the last three years than I have in the last three decades, and I'm sure others have shared that. It is an informed citizenry that makes it work.
So yeah, if you're voting by tribe-- and look, I know it's an imperfect world. It's not black-and-white. This is-- not all this is all that new. But an informed citizenry is kind of the engine of-- and Joel, I quote this in the book. Oh god, a fellow who's written a very short book, a small pamphlet. I'm sorry, I can't remember his name, but I quote him near the end of the book.
And he talked about, truth is the only place you can place your foot to push back against autocracy. If truth isn't in play, then there is no firm ground in which you can take your stand and push back against the autocrat. There's a wonderful quote.
And I cite it. I don't steal it. Post-truth is pre-fascism.
AUDIENCE: Thank you very much.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah. Yep?
AUDIENCE: Good evening, General. Thank you. My name is Nick Lavin from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. You touched a little bit about the intelligence community itself and how this is affecting it as an institution.
But with it being a political institution, and the inherent capability of their assessments to either be rejected or accepted by the principal himself, does this affect the morale of the intelligence community itself? And how do we navigate such turbulence?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah, so great question. So how's that working for the people that have to go to work every day? So I talked to someone Joel knows, we'll get his name, that retired recently. Iconic ops officer, somebody you ought to pay attention to.
So I talked with him at length. And I said, all right, I know the world's not black-and-white, but what's happening? And what he told me was, you're right, it's not black-and-white. So it's not binary.
But more so than any other time in my experience, the question I'm hearing from the people below decks, the one's just rowing, generally younger, a little more newsy, a little more social media, the people I'm hearing-- the question I'm hearing more than I've ever heard before from the people below decks is simply, am I still part of a good thing?
And the question I'm hearing from the people above decks, he said, again, not black-and-white, but more than I've heard it in the past, is, does this matter? Does what I do still make a difference? So that's the struggle.
And so Gina Haspel, whom we all supported as a wonderful choice, despite controversies about things that may or may not have been in her past, Gina understands that. And she's-- I mean, she says, I can't control this, I can't control that. I can control this.
We're going to block. We're going to tackle. We're going to do our mission. And that's what leadership is needed now. Yeah. Yes?
AUDIENCE: Thank you for being here today, Mr. Hayden. My name is Naomi Gaskin. I'm from Clark University, as well.
I am wondering, when you wrote The Assault On intelligence, what was your intended reaction from the reader? Because it seemed as though your intended audience is that layer 1 of your cake. What do you hope people do after reading your book?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: So to view it as a reasonable argument. Joel's right, I've worked really hard to be respectful. And there's very little demonization in the book. And if there is, I made a mistake. I didn't intend it.
And so I do want to try to call people back to fact-based arguments. And so the reaction from people inside government, I have had no negative reaction by people in the-- in fact, I get-- [INAUDIBLE]. That's good. Thank you.
The broad public response, such as that is, I-- my only metric that's statistically relevant is Amazon. OK? So I go to the Amazon page. 83% of my evaluations are 4 or 5, and most of them are 5. And then I've got a whole slew of 1's and 2's.
It's a minority, but there's a lot. A lot for a book that's got over 80%, up there in the stratosphere. And so my view is, there is an ideological reaction to the prose, rather than an appreciation as to whether it was an interesting or un-interesting book.
I think people self-select in terms of reading a book like this, so it's not surprising that it's broadly positive. And it's probably not surprising that it's probably binary. There's not much middle ground. So we gave have them the best shot.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yep. Yes?
AUDIENCE: Good evening, sir. Thank you for coming to speak. I'm a student at Harvard, and Tom Nichols is actually my professor this semester.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: OK.
AUDIENCE: So I'll pass on that he got a name-drop here. I just had a quick question for you about-- you said you wanted to see a cultural change in the intelligence community from being tellers of secrets to tellers of truths. So how does the community, and the people and organizations that surround it and feed into it, how do they navigate that cultural shift?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah. So that's a great question, and it's really hard, all right? So I'm going to be very efficient, but it's going to be something that's not in the book. All right?
It's not that secrets aren't going to be useful. They're still going to exist. We're still going have to steal them. But Joel, I actually think they're harder to get. Now, the really, really secret stuff is going to be really hard to get.
You're really going to have to be really stealthy. You're really going have to be really clandestine. OK? That demands a relatively closed society, and not the broader society. The society of the CIA. But since so much more information is going to be readily available, is going to be publicly retrievable, you need a far more permeable membrane between the agency and the broader world.
I realize I just proposed contradictory cultural realities. And so the balance is going to have to be created in the future. There's a very permeable membrane between most of the agency and the broader society to allow the agency to harvest the wisdom of the broader society, but have a hardcore deep inside the agency that is even more protected and more clandestine than it is today. That's a tough balancing act, but that's the requirement.
AUDIENCE: Thank you, sir.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yep.
AUDIENCE: Thank you very much for your talk. I'm a PhD candidate here at MIT. We make a lot of technology here at MIT, and technology has a history of coming in and essentially kicking us back in about-- some years after. I'm not sure Zuckerberg really knew what he had in mind when he started doing Facebook.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: It's a classic case of ambition and technology getting in front of wisdom, law, policy, and normative behavior.
AUDIENCE: Yes. So if I'm looking at technologies right now that we're making, what's your take on things like deep fakes, and their capacity of creating mass misinformation? And especially, how do we get those type of cats in the bag again?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah. So what was the phrase you used here? What was my opinion on--
AUDIENCE: "Deep fakes."
MICHAEL HAYDEN: OK, got it. Got it. Deep fakes. Yeah, and so we're more vulnerable by the technology we use. All right?
And I may have said-- I've talked to a lot of folks between here and Harvard. If I've said this before, I apologize. But we have a body of folks, like the whole entire population, that is accustomed to getting their data about the outside world in digestible doses from curated sources. It's called the evening news and the morning newspaper.
And now those folks are getting their news in a tsunami of data coming at them. Almost none of it is curated. And so the first effort is education about how to read, absorb news, and teach ourselves, teach our children to be critical consumers of information. And there are efforts underway to do that. But we have to-- again-- actually, my description of Facebook is quite apt here. A case of ambition and technology getting ahead of norms, policy, law, and education, and we have to catch up. OK?
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yes, ma'am?
AUDIENCE: Hello. I'm Una Hidari. I'm a fellow at the center, but my background is mainly in journalism, and that's going to be the focus of my question. You said that Russia wasn't-- [INAUDIBLE] problem, or not as big of a problem as is being presented.
And one of my problems with the way reporting is being done lately in the past two years in the United States is that it has been dominating the airwaves, the Russia-- the US relationship to Russia, and the probe, and everything else. Don't you feel the journalists, who are the ones fighting against the lies that are being spread about the administration, should also take into consideration the fact that the Russian stuff has also been overblown? I feel they haven't-- journalists haven't been doing their part in that sense.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah, yeah. The answer is "yes." All right? And so I think I pointed out earlier, how do these fact-based institutions push back against the non-fact-based movement without violating their own norms? So in my case, it's kind of non-normative to be so much on TV.
I've made my peace with that. We don't reveal secrets. OK.
For journalism, I don't think it's being non-fact-based. For journalism, I think the challenge is being obsessed. And I would say the obsession is not so much with the Russians as it is with the president.
And so I'm on CNN a lot. I actually know stuff about what's going on in the world. I can't tell you the last time I commented on an international anything. They want me to know what's happening to Rosenberg, and what do I think about wearing a wire in the Oval Office.
And so if I have a complaint, it's not that it's untrue, but it's just too narrowly-focused, and thereby denying you information about the broader planet. That would be my norm-busting behavior for journalism. Yep. Sir?
AUDIENCE: So groups face cognitive challenges. Group-think, willingness to believe lies, believing silly things because they feel good for group internal dynamics. I'm delighted that these things like group-think are finally playing a large role in our national dialogue.
It concerns me that the focus there is entirely on group-think and similar cognitive challenges occurring in a populist rabble subculture context. And there's very little discussion that these cognitive challenges are also faced by elite subcultures. Thoughts?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah, sure. Totally agree. OK, next? No, I mean-- remember my little hand puppet here? OK.
I would have made the case back in the day, there was a whole lot of group-think over here, and the commentary about what it was we were doing over here. I mean, I would. And we'll probably have to make that case before I leave this Earth, and we get beyond the current issue and get back to some of these other issues. All right?
So that-- I'll give you one that can be controversial. And I'm not going to argue about it, all right? But when you say, why did you support torture? My response is, well, you've already concluded the argument. There's nothing more to talk about.
Torture is always wrong, you know? "Why did you murder that person?" I mean, that's an accusation.
That's not a question, right? "Why did you kill that person?" Oh, different que-- do you see what I'm saying?
So my complaint back in the old world was that the language of most of these institutions had already presumed an answer to, a destination for, any discussion we were going to take place. So we'd always push back against the presumption that was inherent, embedded, in the language.
So yeah, I'm very familiar with group-think among elites. I kind of participated in it. I have a certain worldview based upon my life experience, and I have to remind myself constantly, well, maybe there's another way of looking at it. I tend to look at things through a security lens, when in reality, one of the great discoveries of the last 10 years is there are a whole bunch of other lenses out there that are really interesting.
AUDIENCE: So is there some way to broaden the discussion to--
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah, of course. By the way-- I mean, I gave you the basic narrative of the book. So I do that chapter 1, Sarajevo Truth. Oh, what's going on? And then I stop the narrative. It's really quite clumsy.
But I felt duty-bound to describe the intelligence policy relationship during the Obama administration, so that no one was operating under the misconception that Intelligence had been chased out of the Garden of Eden on the 20th of January. That we had serious issues with the Obama administration. And there is an issue of tension between intelligence and the administration. Not nearly at the level we're experienced today, but--
So I'll give you a real short shorthand that just tries to suggest, yeah, I understand this is happening on multiple levels. The question I would get from my foreign friends, generally people of my background in other countries, during the Obama years is, where are you guys? Because of the broad retrenchment.
The question I now get from my allied friends is, who are you guys? All right? Gives you some sense as to, there were tensions before. There are tensions now. Just over different lines. Yes?
AUDIENCE: Yes, hi. I'm in the same camp as you. I'm a bit pessimistic. We can't take the genies out of the bottle, and I don't think we can change people's cognitive processes, just like the people in the bar you met.
I read once-- I think it was Tolstoy who said that "Today's truth is tomorrow's history, which is like a currency that has abandoned the gold standard." That being the case, truth is like a-- we're in a truth bubble, where we've printed too much of it. And either that bubble is going to burst-- you're the Alan Greenspan of truth. That's how I'm looking at you.
So can you imagine a scenario where either a bubble of truth could burst? What could a truth George Soros do to burst this bubble, or could recreate so many truths that-- make the bubbles-- keep them small enough not to cause the world conflict? Make the world a worse place?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: So back to the theory of the case. Truth is the working-- the best working theory of objective reality at the moment, which always develops. And there could be competitive theories, right? This is going to be a weird answer, but let me just try it, all right?
So they had to go in and brief President Obama on Syria, all right? And obviously, they're going to tell him the truth. The Intel guys are going to base it on data. Well, maybe not obvious to you. It's obvious to me.
But how you organize that data is very compelling. There are four or five theories of what is going on in Syria, what was going on. Each of them are true, or each of them are based on truth, but each of them lead to a different course of action. OK?
Mr. President, this is a war between autocrats and Democrats. That's the original insurrection against Assad. That leads you to a certain course of action. Mr. President, this is Sunnis on [? Adelites, ?] and the Christians and the Kurds are staying out of it. This is an ethnic conflict.
And that leads you to a certain course of action. Mr. President, this is a humanitarian catastrophe. A half a million Syrians are dead. Half the population is displaced. That leads you to a certain course of action.
Mr. President, this is fundamentally about the Sunni-Shia split, and the line of confrontation between the two branches of Islam is being fought out along the Aleppo-Damascus axis. Which leads you to a certain course of action. Mr. President, in the strangest of ways, this is a resumption of the East-West competition between ourselves and the Russians. And that leads you to a different course of action.
All of those are true, but there are different theories of the case. And it's-- you know, original sin? Veil of tears? We do the best we can. Sir?
AUDIENCE: I have a question in terms of the fundamental premises that you had here is the seeking the truth, and that will create a lot of-- that's a big issue. And the question is, if the-- it's how seeking the truth is. And Janet, I think, Napolitano at the University of California recently said that the biggest issue for security right now is sustainability issues with climate change.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Right.
AUDIENCE: So that cuts across now those two fields, security and climate change. But one of the thing-- Noam Chomsky used the expression, or coined the expression called "intentional ignorance." And the issue I submitted, one of the biggest problems with seeking the truth is you're bumping up against the concept of intentional ignorance, which has a subset of concept of bad faith, where you choose not to admit something that's the truth and not the truth.
So how do you deal? And number 1 is, do you talk about that in your book, about intentional ignorance? Or how do you deal with intentional ignorance?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: So I guess in an oblique way, when I-- the basic premise is that the objective reality is not the departure point for decision-making or speech. And so that is-- in many cases, it's intentional ignorance.
Did I bring up the WTO to this group? Yeah. I mean, there's a case of intentional ignorance. Talked about the medical condition. Piers Morgan interviewed the president on the margins of Davos, and it was a long-form interview. One of the episodes was about global warming.
Morgan brings it up, and it's on YouTube. It's fascinating to watch. The president says, you know, they used to call it "global warming." They don't do that anymore. They call it "climate change."
As there's parts of the Earth that are warming, there are parts of the Earth that are cooling. Right? That's why they call it "climate change", Piers.
And oh, by the way, 10, 20 years ago, they said the poor ice caps were going away. Now the polar ice caps are at record levels. Which I guess is technically correct, in terms of they've never been smaller since we've been recording polar ice caps.
And the question I ask is, this is the president. And no judgment on the man. He is the president. He travels in an ecosystem.
So did someone after that interview say, Mr. President, private word, please, and try to punch through? And that's kind of the theory of the book. What do the fact-bearers do in this environment? And oh, by the way, I spent some time in the book saying, you can't bend your spear on every issue. You've got to pick.
Because if he views you to be-- and he's important, because you elected him. Right? Maybe not you, personally, right? If he thinks you're just reflexively opposing him, you've lost all authenticity in saying, Mr. President, you can't do this one. Here's why.
And so where do you draw that line in the dialogue, particularly for this president, who is described as-- look, to be fair to the president, he is almost preternaturally confident in his own instincts, in his own a-priori narrative of how the world works. And I write in the book, before you get too judgmental, remember, those are the ones who got him elected when all the "experts" said it wasn't going to happen.
JOEL BRENNER: General, you're not only at, but after the top of the hour. And I know there are more people who want to ask questions. So let me make a suggestion. Let's have the questions come--
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yep.
JOEL BRENNER: And then you can wrap-- and then wrap it up.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Short stuff. Otherwise, I won't remember.
JOEL BRENNER: Right. Real quick.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: OK.
AUDIENCE: Real quick. Let me make a suggestion. I think first, it was very, very refreshing for me to hear you, listen to you. And I appreciate your views very much.
Now, it will be much more convincing if an intel chief or any intel personality would say that, look, in years past, under other administrations, lying was the exception. But in this administration, it became the rule.
Because there is no denying that all Intel operations involve some propaganda, some misinformation to serve certain national interest goals. So you cannot do at all without at least twisting the truth, or--
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Right. I don't agree with the premise, but I've got an answer. OK.
AUDIENCE: Good evening, sir. I think we're in a unique environment here, where we have people who represent the policy sector, academic research, private sector technology, and also military. In your personal opinion, where does both the moral and the legal responsibility for making the changes you talk about in your book, where does that fall?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: OK. Got it.
JOEL BRENNER: Last one.
AUDIENCE: So you touched briefly at the beginning on loss of faith in elites, 2008, the war in Iraq, et cetera. Could you at some point speak to either if you think there's anything that could have been done to avert where we are now? Or getting past this moment, what could be done in the future to avoid that sort of crisis of confidence?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Got it. OK.
JOEL BRENNER: General Hayden, the last word.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: All right, here we go. So the lying thing, all right? So Intel should never-- I disagree with some of the premise. There's no reason for Intel to lie.
You're in a classified environment. You're talking to a policymaker. For god's sake, why don't you tell them what you really believe?
All right, sometimes it's hard. I mean, we actually-- it's so hard that we actually have a name for it. It's called the Phenomenon of the Unpleasant Fact.
Where you go in there with something that you know is going to cut across his policy, his preference, his politics. Now, when I walked in there in April of 2007 and said, hey Mr. President-- hey, surprise, I think the Syrians have a near-complete nuclear reactor in the eastern Syrian desert, I wasn't making his day. He did not need another nuclear issue in the Middle East. Oh, by the way, the president's response to me was, are you sure this time?
We worked our way through that. It's more nuanced. There is a difference between political speech and intelligent speech. Political speech is allowed some hyperbole. Political speech is allowed some lack of nuance.
"Make it clear, make it loud, repeat" is political speech. I'll give you a real concrete example. I'll be very efficient. The Benghazi talking points, OK?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: [INAUDIBLE].
MICHAEL HAYDEN: OK. All right.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: [INAUDIBLE] But I'm an Intel guy. I had that goal. I didn't know-- I did not know that.
AUDIENCE: And I disagree it was right to move Qaddafi. We didn't base it on international law [INAUDIBLE]--
MICHAEL HAYDEN: I'm all good with that. But we're talking about the intensely political issue here in the United States about CIA creating talking points for the administration that were then used for a political purpose, unarguably. All right? There is only one good option for CIA when creating talking points. Don't do it.
OK? Because intel speech is different than political speech. And so the right answer would have been, you guys write down what you think. We'll check it. And by the way, that was always my response when Steve Hadley would call.
Hey, Mike, that was a great briefing. We know that's going to be on the front burner. We want to make sure we get it right. This is all virtuous. We want to make sure we get it right. Could you guys give us some-- no.
You write it down, we'll check your spelling. And here's your reason. Who did the attack? Terrorists? Al-Qaeda?
And I could I can develop three or four descriptions as to identifying the attackers. All of them correct, but each of them freighted. All right?
Don't get involved in picking the word. Let them pick the word. And when they come back with "terrorists" rather than "al-Qaeda," which again, has political connotation, or some other choice of words, you get to say, well, while that's technically correct, that's probably not the word I'd use. I could use a more precise word there, but that's not my business.
And so again, I'm only drawing the comparison because political speech is different. Now, occasionally you've got to pick up the phone. I did this.
Steve, what you guys said yesterday, if asked, we can't back you up. Ooh. And that generally led to changes in how things were said.
Responsibility. Who gets to fix it? The real answer is, all the above. All right? But I do think intelligence has a special responsibility. Let me tell you why.
Number 1, it's a fact-based institution. If it's not, you have no reason for it. But it's beyond that. And I freely admit, intelligence does a lot of edgy things. If it was easy, they'd ask the Department of Commerce.
We get to act in an environment in which the ethical, legal, and operational realities are often ambiguous. And so-- this is not a word I would use, but critics of us would talk about "questionable activities." All right? And it's just the nature of the business.
And we are asked to do things no one else has asked or allowed to do. That's the special role of espionage. That only ta-- those edgy things.
Even if it's just suborning someone in someone's foreign ministry to tell you things the foreign ministry would rather not share, we do that all the time. And so-- or intercepting communications for which we're not the intended recipient. We do that all the time.
And I recognize that's a grayish area. As you can probably tell from my tone, I'm reasonably comfortable with it. I did it for a living.
But that only takes its moral justification by being attached to a higher ethical purpose. And so this actually was going to create a crisis-- we could create a crisis in the intelligence community more rapidly than anywhere else in our governmental structure, because these edgy, ambiguous things are only justified, people only do them in good conscience, because they're attached to a broader ethical purpose.
And if we lose sight of the broader ethical purpose, if we think they are not attached to a broader ethical purpose, it undercuts the moral legitimacy of the very business. And so I think Intel gets out on point. The last one was elites, and how could we have averted-- who asked the elite question? Repeat that one for me. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: I guess, since where we are today involves a crisis of confidence in the elites, either what changes do you think could have avoided that, or getting past it, what changes do you think could avoid something similar in the future?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yeah. I mean, these are throwaways, but they're true nonetheless. Listening, respect, non-demonization, non-condemnation.
AUDIENCE: Staying out of Iraq.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Hm?
AUDIENCE: Staying out of Iraq.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Well, yeah. I mean, you've got courses of action. I already mentioned the financial meltdown, getting the weapons of mass destruction wrong, underestimating what would happen in Iraq. Those are all elite decisions, and the people that paid for it were the kids of the people in the bar in Pittsburgh, right?
I mean, they're the ones who suffered the consequences. So I understand that. But remember, the problem I described was when you think you're throwing out-- you're discarding the elites, you're also discarding expertise. And there's got to be some sort of a balance there.
So one would hope that dialogue, openness, respect, non-demonization. Frankly, going out of your way to unders-- better under-- one of the blessings of my post-government life is I spent a lot of time in the country, in the countryside. This is a magnificently diverse society.
And my friends come to visit America, and it is a wonderment that a society as diverse, as different, as geographically expansive as us, has a certain sense of national, moral, ethical unity. It's a miracle. And I just ask all of you to participate in that, to be more open to that reality that makes us who we are. The people in the back room that I had trouble with, they rally to the colors in distress. It's their kids that go to war.
JOEL BRENNER: General, you've been very generous with your time.