During the presidential campaign, retired Gen. Michael Hayden, who served as CIA director in the George W. Bush administration, was a strong critic of candidate Donald Trump. But now that the Republican is headed to the White House he’s giving him a chance during the transition.
“We’re involved in a major transition, and I know a lot of people are concerned,” Hayden told the Observer in an interview ahead of an appearance Tuesday in Charlotte. “But we’re good people. We have good institutions. The guys 250 years ago put it together pretty well. The process is a process. Let it run. Let’s see where it goes.”
Hayden, who also served as head of the National Security Agency, has experience with these transitions. After Barack Obama’s election in 2008, he was part of the team that briefed the president-elect on crucial security matters.
“You want to create cognitive dissonance in the mind of the incoming team, as in ‘maybe I wasn’t fully informed when I said that during that campaign stop in Schenectady,’” Hayden said. “It’s not disrespectful. We would have done the same thing with (Obama’s opponent) John McCain.”
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In the case of Trump, the transition is more complicated because he comes to the job “pretty thin” in personal knowledge of global matters, Hayden said. The Republican also made contradictory statements on the campaign trail, he said.
“The intel guys are very empirical, very inductive,” he said. “They begin with data. They draw broad conclusions from data. All policy people are deductive. All policy people begin with first principle and then try to impose them on the world. This policy maker is that way except more so.”
Hayden, who told the Observer he voted for independent Evan McMullin as a protest against both major parties, said he has written an opinion piece for the Washington Post in which he encourages the intelligence community to “step up” when they’re briefing Trump on global realities.
“My op-ed emphasizes to the intel guys you’ve got to man up, people,” he said. “You’ve got to be the world as it is, fact-based, empirical, inductive, somewhat-pessimistic people I know you to be.”
Hayden’s appearance at the Knight Theater in Charlotte is presented by the Learning Society of Queens, a Queens University of Charlotte organization that brings speakers to the city. The format will be a conversation with Sir John Scarlett, Hayden’s former counterpart at the British Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6. Tickets are available at www.carolinatix.org or by calling 704-372-1000.
Hayden, the author of the recent book “Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror,” said he hopes Trump understands that some of the world’s problems are complicated.
For example, “Syria is a mess, but it’s not a mess because the people in front of him in line were stupid, weak or corrupt,” he said. “It’s a mess because it’s a wicked problem. He needs to understand that there are not simple solutions to this. And if he tries simple solutions to this it’s just going to make it worse.”
During the campaign, Trump said in South Carolina that “torture works” and that he would favor the use of techniques even stronger than “waterboarding,” a method that spurred controversy for its use during the Bush administration. That statement led Hayden to say Trump or any other future president would need to “bring his own bucket” if he wanted someone waterboarded.
Hayden told the Observer that the CIA would resist orders to waterboard not because technique didn’t work or that the CIA is ashamed of its use.
“It’s because the agency thought it was doing the will of the American people expressed through the American government and got hung out to dry a little bit,” he said, referring to intense scrutiny the agency later faced over torture. “They’re not going to do that again. There is a powerful and an understandable sense of betrayal. The agency won’t do it. They just won’t.”
As for other intelligence matters, Hayden has long raised alarms about the dangers of cyberattacks against the U.S. government and private businesses.
“We’re not prepared well for an attack, but this is not me running around saying the sky is falling either,” he said. “But we have become routinely victimized by cyber actors. Whether they’re the North Koreans, the Iranians, the Russians, criminal gangs, the Chinese stealing intellectual property, this is a big deal. So we need to aware of it.”
In the end, the private sector may become critical in protecting the U.S. from cyberattacks because “we the American people haven’t decided yet what we want and more importantly what it is we will allow our government to do to protect us in cyberspace,” he said, referring to sensitivity around privacy.
Of all industries, financial services and utilities have stepped up the most, Hayden said.
“No one is impregnable,” he said, “but they have spent an awful lot of money because they know the dangers under which they operate.”