October 22, 2010



Hayden Says Iran Won’t Build Nuke Bomb

October 19, 2010 - 6:10 PM | by: Lee Ross

Addressing a broad range of issues including Iran's nuclear ambitions and the current threat of terrorist attacks, former CIA Director Michael Hayden spoke for 90 minutes Tuesday offering praise and criticism to the intelligence community and the Obama Administration.

While careful to remind his audience that he is no longer in government, having left the CIA in 2009, Hayden remains plugged-in to the intelligence community and is a respected voice on matters covering the globe.
The retired Air Force general thinks Iranian officials have developed their nuclear program to be fully capable of building a nuclear weapon but not actually complete the task. "That gives them all the effects of having a weapon," Hayden said. "I judge that's their end game. That's where they want to be. And that's really bad. That's as bad as a detonation. In fact, in some ways that's worse than a detonation."

Hayden expressed concern that whether Iran actually develops a weapon or is simply capable of doing so presents security challenges to the country's regional neighbors. Saudi Arabia, Hayden suggested, might be forced to seek a military alliance with Pakistan to counter the Iranian threat. That alliance and others could rapidly escalate tensions leading to significant problems.

When asked about North Korea, Hayden said the country remains the most difficult to understand and predicts that when the regime in the communist country collapses it will be seen as inevitable.

Turing his attention to Washington, Hayden blasted the Obama Administration's decision to release internal Justice Department memos justifying CIA interrogation techniques. The move was widely criticized and Hayden says it will hamper future covert activities with officers wondering if their careers will be jeopardized by shifting political attitudes.

"Every agency officer today will say, 'I've seen this movie. I used to think this was a contract with the American government. I have been taught this is a contract with an administration. And this contract has the half-life of one election cycle in the American political system.' That is a very bad place for the espionage system to be," Hayden observed.

While acknowledging the existence of honest differences over the interrogation technigues utilized by intelligence officers a few years ago, Hayden was unequivocal with its success. "It was effective. It did what we expected it to do."

Hayden did offer praise for the government handling of the attempted Christmas bombing of an airplane over Detroit but also said the episode exposed weaknesses within the American intelligence community. "The fundamental issue wasn't moving the information around. The fundamental issue was how do you deal with mass, how do you deal with volume? How do you pick the important signal out of the noise?"

The remarks were made at the Stimson Center, a Washington D.C. think tank that describes itself as "a nonprofit, nonpartisan institution devoted to enhancing international peace and security through a unique combination of rigorous analysis and outreach." Hayden spent most of his career in the Air Force before leading the National Security Agency and the CIA for most of the past decade.

Despite his opposition to the creation of a super-spook position, Hayden feels the Director of National Intelligence office created in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks can successfully protect American interests. His optimism is predicated on having people with strong determination and political skill to navigate the thicket of Washington bureaucracy.

When asked about his assessment of terrorist intentions, Hayden pointed to the analysis of another top intelligence official, Mike Leiter of the National Counterterrorism Center who says the next major terrorist event is unlikely to be on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001 but rather of the lower threshold attack that played out in Mumbai, India two years ago.

Hayden says the evolution to less sophisticated attacks is a positive sign that terrorist groups have been compromised but also exposes vulnerabilities of a society that places great importance on individual freedoms and suspicion of any governmental effort to tamp down on those protections.

"What I think Mike is trying to do is get the policy makers to tell everybody that. To make sure everyone is well aware--this is the new flavor of threat."