Former CIA/NSA Director Hayden: ‘I Would Lose Respect’ For China, Russia ‘If They Hadn’t Penetrated Clinton’s Server’

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JP Carroll National Security & Foreign Affairs Reporter
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Former NSA Director (1999-2005) and CIA Director (2006-2009), retired General Michael V. Hayden told The Daily Caller News Foundation that he believes Donald Trump is “erratic” and that relations between China and the U.S. represent “the most important geo-strategic question facing us.”

In a brief Q&A with TheDCNF, Hayden discussed Wikileaks, Russian intelligence, and what he thinks about the nominees.

TheDCNF: Do you think it is likely that Russia, Russian intelligence specifically, have seen Secretary Clinton’s emails and whether or not they have, why do you think they are targeting her?

Hayden: So, without concrete evidence, which I don’t have, and apparently the FBI doesn’t have either, what I have felt comfortable saying about this is that I would lose a whole lot of respect for a whole bunch of intelligence agencies around the world, if they hadn’t penetrated that server and gotten access to the emails. It’s what nation-states do to one another, and with emails of such an official, in that circumstance, I just think that would have been a natural magnet for a whole bunch of intelligence services, and the Russians are quite good at this.

TheDCNF: Secondly then, what do you think about Edward Snowden who has continually insinuated online that what he did and what Secretary Clinton did are equivalent? If they are different, if you believe they are different circumstances, what is the difference?

Hayden: Well, number one: what he [Snowden] did was intentional, what she [Clinton] did, I think the FBI Director’s comment was correct, it was “careless,” actually inexcusable. But she did not intend to make public, American secrets, so that’s one.

The second, there is no equivalency in scale here, in terms of the information that was pushed out globally in one case, Snowden, and which may have been acquired in another sense by intelligence services in another, [Clinton]. So again, the scale, we’re literally talking orders of magnitude in difference.

TheDCNF: What do you think about Wikileaks’ role in disseminating information regarding the hacks of the DNC? Also, what do you think about Wikileaks’ relationship with the Russian state?

Hayden: Well, again, you know, lacking specifics, my views are not fact-based, but you know, Wikileaks seems to be an organization that’s committed to revealing Western secrets, not Russian secrets, and one wonders why that is. Also, one would have to ask the question, wouldn’t Wikileaks think more than once with this arrangement where a reasonable person would at least make a hypothesis that they’re being used as a tool by Russian intelligence services that they would just be acting as an agent on their behalf.

TheDCNF: You have publicly stated that you believe Secretary Clinton would be the best candidate when it comes to foreign policy issues –

Hayden: Well, I said, given the choice of the two left. I had other choices, and I made them, but they’re no longer in the ring.

TheDCNF: That said, you have said that you are not ready to vote for Secretary Clinton and that you may not vote in November. What would make you vote in November? What do you need to see out of Secretary Clinton or out of Mr. Trump, to ultimately get your vote?

Hayden: Let me just say that I am uncomfortable with both and we’ll see what happens.

TheDCNF: Looking at the possibility of a Trump victory how would you see him and his foreign policy team handling the unfolding situation with ISIS and continued Russian aggression?

Hayden: Well, the problem is, I don’t know! I’ve used the term erratic to describe it. [Trump seems to say,] “Talk tough, not talk tough, recognize the annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, we’re not observing the North Atlantic alliance, I’m going to be very tough on ISIS and we’re going to do it quickly, and we’re not going to do nation-building and therefore not change the situation on the ground that created ISIS in the first place.”

So, it’s so erratic, that it scares our friends, helps our enemies, and confuses our citizens.

TheDCNF: Looking back on your time as CIA Director, what are your thoughts on the way that U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence handled their December 2014 Report on CIA Detention and Interrogation Program? Also, do you think that Sen. Dianne Feinstein in her statements about it versus what she knew at the time, did she among other Congressional leaders lie about what they claim was their lack of knowledge about the full extent of the program?

Hayden: Well, I never accused Sen. Feinstein of lying and I would not do that. She may have, not knowingly, said things that are factually incorrect, but that’s different than lying. My complaint about the report is that it is one-sided, that it did not talk to the human beings involved, and seemed really to have been a series of conclusions that worked backwards from the conclusions to marshal as much evidence they could gather just to support the conclusions.

TheDCNF: What do you think about the Senate Intelligence Committee having chosen not to interview anyone from the CIA and the claims that this would have conflicted with a U.S. Justice Department criminal investigation?

Hayden: First of all, a lot of CIA seniors were not involved in the Justice Department investigation, and the investigation was concluded well before the report was concluded. So if that created an impediment, it wasn’t a total impediment and the impediment ended with plenty of time for interviews to be conducted.

TheDCNF: How would the Democratic Party taking back the Senate in November affect oversight regarding intelligence-gathering, versus a Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee?

Hayden: Well I hope that we return to our traditions with certain committees of Congress being above politics, that has historically been the tradition of the intelligence committees, and I’d hope that would be the case going forward. Besides, you know, the Democrats can control it, the Republicans can control it, those are domestic political questions, not my business. I carry no special expertise on that.

TheDCNF:  Much has been made recently about Russia during the U.S. election process, but turning to another geopolitical foe of the U.S., China, what should any administration, regardless of who wins, what are the pressing security challenges that the U.S. faces from China, particularly from an intelligence standpoint based on your experience, in your opinion?

Hayden: I think the Sino-American relationship is the most important geo-strategic question facing us. It’s not the most urgent due to terrorism and cyber-attacks and so on that grab the attention daily, but over the long-term, the Sino-American relationship and creating a space in the international system in which China is a positive contributor is I think the greatest challenge facing American diplomacy.

TheDCNF: As things stand, do you foresee a very real possibility of a second Cold War but this time between the U.S. and China or do you think that can and will be mitigated effectively in the near future?

Hayden: Our relations [with China] have turned a bit more frosty lately and I can see that happening but certainly not, it seems to me very unlikely that two nations whose economies are so intertwined, as the American and the Chinese economies are, to go back to anything like the Cold War we had with the Soviets.

TheDCNF: Lastly, looking at the evolving technologies involved in intelligence-gathering, among them, the use of drones, the Obama Administration seems to have concluded that it is more ethical or preferable to use lethal drones rather than interrogate and gain information from potential terrorists. Where do you stand on the increased militarization involved in executing decisions related to intelligence-gathering?

Hayden: So, my standard take on this is that we have made it so legally difficult and so politically dangerous to detain people that we seem to default to taking them off the battlefield through direct action rather than capturing them.

TheDCNF: What do you make about incumbent CIA Director John Brennan saying recently that “we don’t steal secrets,” what do you think about those comments he made?

Hayden: I think John was simply trying to soften some rough edges in the Agency’s public image. We use words like “analyze” and “gather” and so on, but look, the core mission of the Agency is to steal other nations’ secrets and the secrets of enemies of the United States and I think that core mission will continue.

TheDCNF: When it comes to looking back on the way the Detention and Interrogation Program was handled, do you have any regrets in retrospect, how do you look back on that and how do you assess it in terms of your own legacy and the legacy of the Agency?

Hayden: More lessons learned than regrets. The lesson learned is that we should have involved the other political branch, the Congress, more fully, in the program earlier than we did. The Agency fulfilled the law, but the number of people in Congress who were informed, was quite limited. In retrospect, I’d have told more folks, more stuff, more early

TheDCNF: So the Agency did not break the law?

Hayden: No.


Hayden is the author of the 2016 book, “Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror” and is a Principal at The Chertoff Group.

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