General Michael Hayden | Playing to the Edge

General Michael Hayden | Playing to the Edge (Episode 523)

General Michael Hayden | Playing to the Edge (Episode 523)

General Michael Hayden (@GenMhayden) is a retired United States Air Force general, former Director of the NSA and CIA, and author of Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • How does an intelligence agent view cognition, cognitive bias, and psychology differently from a policy maker?
  • What is The Unpleasant Fact an intelligence agent brings to the briefing table?
  • General Hayden gives us a rare glimpse of working for two very different presidents and conveys the importance of adapting to their particular learning styles.
  • Find out what it’s like to present new intelligence to an administration that forces it to change policy. (Awkward!)
  • Get General Hayden’s take on the recent Orlando shootings and the difficulty of balancing security with liberty.
  • And so much more…


powered by Sounder

Episode 523 of The Art of Charm may be a step outside the comfort zone for some, but we felt it was a fascinating opportunity to give our listeners something topical and different from the usual fare.

Today we’re talking with General Michael Hayden, former Director of the NSA and CIA and author of Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror. We’ll discuss the differences in the way intelligence agents and policy makers view the world, domestic spying, ISIS, the Apple iPhone encryption controversy, General Hayden’s take on Edward Snowden and Donald Trump, and a lot more.

More About This Show

When tactical decisions are made in the Oval Office, they include input from an intelligence agent and a policy maker. Each enters the scene from a different door — literally and, in a way, figuratively. General Michael Hayden, author of Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror and former director of the NSA and CIA under President George W. Bush, gives us his perspective:

“The intel guy is inherently swimming out of detail trying to create a generalized conclusion. He’s fundamentally inductive. The policy guy, he’s trying to take his first principles — you know, the ones that got him elected — and apply them to specific circumstances. He’s inherently deductive. The intel guy: the world as it is. The policy maker: the world as we want it to be.”

General Hayden says it’s the job of the intelligence agent to get in the head of the policy maker and bring some realistic pessimism to the table. He calls this “The Unpleasant Fact.” Because the policy maker tends toward unrealistic optimism, there’s almost always a resistance toward this fact — which makes the intelligence agent’s job that much harder, according to General Hayden.

This makes understanding the way a policy maker learns an imperative part of that job. He tells us of his experience between the current presidential administration and the last one.

“I was only President Obama’s CIA chief for three weeks,” General Hayden says. “I was just kind of standing in until Leon Panetta was confirmed. But even in those three weeks, it was clear to me that President Obama learns in a method quite different than the way President Bush learned. President Bush was a great reader — he was in competition with Karl Rove as to how many books they could read. But when you were there for the intel briefing — although President Bush would read the stuff, you could tell that he learned in the conversation. He learned in the pushback. He learned in the exchange.

“Again, my sample with President Obama was pretty small, but others have kind of confirmed this for me. President Obama is more reflective. President Obama learns in the reading. President Obama learns in the quiet spaces. You’re going in there — you’re not trying to manipulate the President of the United States, for heaven’s sake — but you’ve got to understand how that human being learns new things and frankly, you’ve got to adapt to the President’s taste and preferences so that you can do what it was I described before: get inside his or her head.”

Sometimes presenting The Unpleasant Fact to a president is made all the more difficult when it contradicts previous — but outdated — intelligence. It may even informs a reaction counter to an administration’s official position. General Hayden gives the example of having to tell President Bush that Iran was no longer pursuing a nuclear weapons program. “We weren’t saying that the Iranians weren’t dangerous or that they ultimately [wouldn’t] like to have a bomb…it [was] not based upon the absence of evidence that it was continuing; it was based on the evidence of absence that we know it [was] not.”

“That actually put a torpedo into a Bush administration policy to tighten the sanctions on Iran. Frankly, it was a policy I agreed with. I didn’t think this development made the Iranians any less dangerous. But it was going to be harder for the administration to make that argument to the Europeans and others in order to pump up the sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about “The Edge,” why General Hayden is proud of the role he’s played in American security before and since 9/11, how General Hayden sees movement between the emphasis on security and liberty as the sign of a mature democracy, how he believes frightened people don’t make good Democrats or Republicans, the state of technology used by American intelligence agencies in the post-Cold War world, General Hayden’s part in the warrantless surveillance controversy, civilian perception of emotionless drone strikes versus the reality of making hard decisions in a military context, why General Hayden considers Edward Snowden a narcissistic defector (while conceding he did accelerate a necessary conversation about metadata collection), how the civil war happening within Islam today is comparable to what Christendom underwent in the 17th century, why he sides with Apple on the iPhone encryption controversy, why he doesn’t side with Trump as a viable presidential candidate, and lots more.


Resources from this episode:

You’ll also like:

On your phone? Click here to write us a well-deserved iTunes review and help us outrank the riffraff!

Get the Best of the Best

With over 800 podcast episodes, it’s hard to know where to start.
Let’ us help.

You may also want to listen...