GWEN IFILL: We move now from defense to intelligence, and how the country has changed since the attacks of September 11.
The privacy vs. security debate has surfaced again in the wake of the FBI’s appeal to tech giant Apple to unlock an iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shootings. And there is renewed campaign debate over torture.
Hari Sreenivasan has our conversation with one man who was at the center of U.S. intelligence policy.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Retired Air Force General Michael Hayden is the only person to ever serve as both the director of the CIA and the head of the National Security Agency. His tenure at both agencies came during a critical period, as the U.S. launched and prosecuted the global war on terror.
He’s just written a book about his time in government called “Playing to the Edge.”
He joins me now.
Thanks for joining us.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), Author, “Playing to the Edge”: Thank you, Hari.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, let’s start with some things that are in the news right now.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Sure.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Sure.
So, just earlier this week, the administration says the very existence of the prison at Guantanamo Bay is a recruiting tool for our enemy. You can see it in the orange jumpsuits that you see in every horrible beheading video that ISIS produces. You agree?
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: I don’t think it’s a powerful recruitment tool for jihadism.
And let me add one additional thought. If and when he brings these prisoners to North America, he’s still going to insist on indefinite detention without trial for a whole bunch of them. All he’s done is moved them from a warm to a cold climate.
But he’s still sticking to the legal principle that some other countries object to that we actually can treat them as prisoners of war and keep them for the duration of the conflict.
HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.
The other big story right now is obviously this tension between Apple and the government. In this conversation, you have said that you come down on the side of Apple more often than not. In this specific case, with this specific device, you are on the side of the government in trying to open it up. This is the phone, of course, that was used by the attacker in San Bernardino.
You know, one of Apple’s arguments has been, listen, this will set a precedent, it will create a back door. And, sure enough, there’s at least nine or 10 other cases where Apple is being asked to open up that phone.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Absolutely.
And the U.S. attorney in Manhattan says he has got 175 of these instruments sitting in a room that he wants to be reopened. So, in this particular case, the original ask from the FBI, going back months now, was some sort of universal back door that would allow them to get into Apple and other companies’ encrypted devices.
Frankly, Hari, I think American safety, American security — put the privacy argument aside, which is quite powerful. But I’m a security guy. I think American security is better served with end-to-end unbreakable encryption.
And I recognize that makes the life of the FBI more difficult, may even make the life of my old agency more difficult.
HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.
Speaking of tools, you have said that enhanced interrogation techniques, what most American would consider torture, worked. In the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he had been water-boarded — I want to get this right — 183 times, kept awake for seven-and-a-half days, been in multiple stress positions.
In a Senate report just a couple of years ago, it found that a lot of the information he gave us was either misinformation or he would confirm something after the government showed him that, hey, we have this from another source already.
So, I’m wondering, why does America still need these techniques?
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Well, I came to the agency in ’06, all right?
Most of this was already history. I could have walked away from it. But I studied the program over the summer of ’06. And I detailed kind of my personal journey in this. And I decided that — and a lot of things had changed. We were safer. We knew about the enemy more. Some laws had changed, all right?
So, I was fairly willing to pull the program back. But I wasn’t judging what my predecessors had done. And I wanted some form of program to go forward, so that the president would have that option.
HARI SREENIVASAN: You might not judge your predecessors, but the American people certainly do. Right?
If you felt like were you on solid legal footing, why do this — why do this in renditions, in black sites? Why destroy the tapes of what these events looked like? Because that seems like almost a tacit admission that, guess what, somebody back home isn’t going to think too highly of this.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Well, what I try to suggest — and actually point out in some detail in the book — is, for example, the U.S. policy on renditions is the same under this president as it was under President Bush. That hasn’t changed.
All right? These were extreme circumstances. No one is arguing that this should be a fast or an easy decision. I tell the story in the book. Although I emptied the sites in ’06, we kept them open. We wanted to have the option of using them.
I put two people in them. And I relayed in the story that I sat there with the order to authorize extended sleep deprivation on one of the detainees, Mohammad Rahim, and I never forgot he was a human being.
HARI SREENIVASAN: General, in a recent op-ed in The New York Times, which was an excerpt of the book, you defended the policy of drone strikes.
And you said in there that the signature strikes were thoroughly researched, and, to use your words, ‘Intelligence for signature strikes always had multiple threads and deep history. The data was near encyclopedic.”
And, interestingly enough, in that same chapter, you point out where you got the wrong one-legged guy.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Right.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And you had an after-action to figure out what went wrong. Right?
So, I think the question on the minds of a lot of people is, what is our actual ratio of innocent bystanders or collateral damage to every person we have? We have outside estimates from the Investigative Journalism Bureau and other places that say that these could be in the hundreds or thousands.
You say: Listen, based on the intelligence I have seen, that’s not the case.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Yes.
HARI SREENIVASAN: But the irony is, is that, well, we’re kind of left to fill the vacuum if that information never actually becomes public.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: No. Hari, you are absolutely right. And I regret that.
And, unfortunately, I went to my own limits, playing to the edge, with what it was I could write about. So, I fully admit — I think I described the targeted killing program as necessary, precise and imperfect. All right?
And I fully admit, and I actually give examples as you suggest where we actually made mistakes. But we moved heaven and earth to do the right thing, to make sure we targeted legitimate targets. And I actually say in there, this may be the most precise application of firepower in the history of modern conflict.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The underlying question also is, I guess, one of trust.
There is just — you have said that, for example, when you found out that the Snowden revelations were going to happen, that it was going to uncover the information collection program that you helped set up at the NSA, that, on a personal level, you felt that there was a betrayal of trust.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Right.
HARI SREENIVASAN: You can understand then how perhaps the country would feel betrayed that one of our liberties was being taken away by our own government.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: If I’m out there working for an agency, and if I have got the president to authorize it, and Congress to legislate it or oversee it, and the courts to perform their functions when the law requires, I think I have got the Madisonian trifecta. This is really important. The political culture has shifted underneath us, all right?
And a lot of good Americans, not just ones wearing tinfoil on their heads, if you understand what I mean, very serious, thinking Americans are now looking at that and saying, in today’s political culture, what you just described, Hayden, is no longer consent of the governed. That is consent of the governors. You may have told them, but you didn’t tell me.
So, now we have what is unarguably an existential question for American espionage. How will we be able to conduct espionage in the future, inside a broader political culture that demands more transparency and more public accountability from every aspect of national life?
It is a fundamental question. And one final point. We, the spy guys, have to accommodate to the broader political culture, not the other way around.
HARI SREENIVASAN: General Michael Hayden.
The book is called “Playing to the Edge.”
Thanks so much for joining us.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Thank you.