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Book Review "Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror" and Interview with General (Ret) Michael Hayden, former Director of the N.S.A. and C.I.A.

The following book review and interview is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right side bar.

9781594206566_p0_v4_s192x300Playing To The Edge, written by former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden, offers insight into many of the programs under his responsibility. He discusses NSA’s data collection, the enhanced interrogation program, relations with Congress and the media. It also delves into the political, legal, defense, technical and budget restrictions he faced during his tenure as a director of the NSA and CIA

Hayden told he wrote the book “to pull back the veil to give Americans a better understanding of what the intelligence community does for American security.  Despite its great importance, it is highly misunderstood.” The book highlights NSA data collection, and Hayden makes a very good point, that much of the fear is rooted in misunderstanding. He clearly explains how Stellarwind, the Metadata program, became an enormously useful way to track who foreign terrorists are talking to in the United States without sacrificing any significant measure of privacy. Readers will understand that those in the intelligence community and the Bush Administration were not focused on world domination, and had no interest in listening to a person’s phone calls, unless they were speaking with a terrorist.

It becomes evident after reading the book and talking with General Hayden that intelligence operates in a universal gray area, where there is a need to balance freedom and security.  He explained, “We put together with Stellarwind a massive file of the history of American phone calls.  But the files were accessed only with strict and limited circumstances.  For example, if you pick up a phone never seen before, associated with terrorism, you can ask the database if the phone’s history has ever been in contact with anyone in the US.  The database is accessed by an intelligence professional that thinks they have a reasonable suspicion that a particular phone number is connected with terrorism.  In order for John Doe to be triggered he would have to be in touch with either, directly or indirectly, a phone number overseas that is believed to be terrorist related.”

Hayden basically agrees with John Brennan, the current CIA Director, who said in an interview, “individuals are liberally giving up their privacy, you know, sometimes wittingly and sometimes unwittingly as they give information to companies or to sales reps. Or they go out on Facebook or the various social media. They don't realize though that they are then making themselves vulnerable to exploitation.”

But more importantly what Hayden wants to focus upon is that America should be “capturing terrorists and detaining them for interrogation.  How we get to that point is to elect another president.  This President grabs someone only if he can put them in an article III court, instead of treating them as enemy combatants.”

Congress and this administration have shown a betrayal of trust where the CIA is concerned; yet, has done nothing regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails.  Hayden noted, “I have not seen the emails.  But, once you set up a private server it can’t go to a happy place because it is unprotected.  As a former Director of the NSA if a potential adversary of the US had done this I would have moved heaven and earth to see the information.  It was imprudent and I cannot understand why the folks at the State Department did not say to her she could not do it.  The explanation she gives is incoherent for anyone who was in government.”

The book further explains the Hayden Doctrine. When asked about it, he directly commented to, “Balancing openness with the need for secrecy is a condition to be managed, not a problem to be solved.  We should lean forward as far as possible in telling our story.  If we do not do this other people will, without being as accurate or as favorable.  We need to communicate to the broader society what we do and the reasons behind it.  Because too much information is classified this breeds carelessness in protecting what is really secret. But we have to be open internally as well.  I created a program, ‘Email The Director.’  Something seemed to be working because by 2008 we were only in the press because of Congress.”

In Playing To The Edge Michael Hayden shows how important intelligence is to America’s security.  People might not always agree with him, but one thing is for certain he believes in the Constitution, is a patriot, and his only agenda is to protect his fellow citizens. Americans should thank him for his service and consider him a true American hero who stepped up to the plate to defend the homeland.