Remarks of Central Intelligence Agency Director
Gen. Michael V. Hayden
at the Council on Foreign Relations (as prepared for delivery)September 7, 2007
It’s a pleasure to be in New York, to spend some time with this very distinguished group, and to talk about the organization I am privileged to lead—CIA.
It’s an organization with a clear objective: to protect the American people. We have a number of missions that feed into that, and one of them we share with the Council: to help our policymakers make sense of global events.
The range of issues before us is as wide as the world we study: nuclear proliferation, emerging security threats, the rise of new economic centers, the scramble for natural resources, and much more. Our nation counts on us to have the expertise and insight to flag the risks and opportunities that lie ahead. And to keep our eye on all the critical international concerns facing our nation right now.
Of the subjects we cover, none commands more attention than terrorism. It’s unlikely there will ever come a time when a CIA Director visits New York and his or her thoughts aren’t shaped by 9/11. We are at war, and this city, strong and vibrant, has been a battlefield in that war.
I don’t make a lot of public speeches—that’s probably the way it should be in my line of work. But I asked to speak here today. Like anyone who feels deeply about the safety and well-being of his countrymen—and the value and integrity of his colleagues—I believe there are things that should be said. And sometimes our citizens should hear them straight from the person who’s running their Central Intelligence Agency.
This afternoon, I want to talk to you about the Agency, the new kind of war that our nation has asked us to fight … and the question of space.
If you take nothing else from what I say, I hope it will be this: CIA operates only within the space given to us by the American people. That is how we want it to be, and that is how it should be.
That space is defined by the policymakers we elect and the laws our representatives pass. But once the laws are passed and the boundaries set, the American people expect CIA to use every inch we’re given to protect our fellow citizens.
So first, let’s talk about that space.
The intelligence services of free societies operate within strict limits. To my way of thinking, those boundaries reflect the principles of our Republic that are most worth defending. We at CIA work hard to live up to them, even as we operate in the shadows of espionage.
That sets up natural tensions, but for us they’re simply part of doing business. Our Agency is absolutely convinced that it’s our obligation to conform to the needs of a free society, not vice-versa. That’s the society we all signed up to defend. No matter the external threat, we at CIA feel just as strongly as any American that our DNA as a nation cannot be altered.
But, unlike most Americans, it’s our responsibility to confront that external threat unceasingly, every minute of every hour. That too is an obligation we at CIA feel acutely.
Let me make very clear how my Agency views the fight at hand—I think it speaks to what a lot of Americans believe as well. Our nation is in a state of armed conflict with al-Qa’ida and its affiliates. It is a conflict that is global in scope, and a precondition for winning it is to take the fight to the enemy wherever he may be.
From my vantage point, as measured by the required intensity of effort and the profound nature of the threat, it’s hard to see this fight as anything less than war. I’ve seen public references to “the so-called war on terrorism” or “the Bush administration’s war on terrorism.” But for us, it’s simply war. It’s a word used commonly and without ambiguity in the halls of the Pentagon and at Langley.
We who study and target the enemy see a danger more real than anything our citizens at home have confronted since our Civil War. Even when you consider the Cold War and mutually-assured destruction—in which the potential danger was catastrophic—the fact is, the destruction never came.
This war is different. In a very real sense, anybody who lives or works in a major city is just as much a potential target as the victims of 9/11, or the London subway bombings, or the strikes in Madrid, or any of the other operations we’ve seen in Morocco, Jordan, Indonesia, Algeria, Pakistan, Kenya, and elsewhere.
That’s my take on the strategic threat we face, without the precise language of an estimate. The National Intelligence Council published its findings on the threat to the homeland this summer. Analysts from CIA and throughout the Community engaged in a careful, meticulous study of the issue based on their deep expertise and on both open and classified sources. I have tremendous respect for their work, and I’d like to draw from their judgments to the extent I can in a public setting.
- First, our analysts assess with high confidence that al-Qa’ida’s central leadership is planning high-impact plots against the US homeland.
- Second, they assess—also with high confidence—that al-Qa’ida has protected or regenerated key elements of its homeland attack capability. That means safe haven in the tribal areas of Pakistan, operational lieutenants, and a top leadership engaged in planning. Al-Qa’ida’s success with the remaining element—planting operatives in this country—is less certain.
- Third, we assess—again, with high confidence—that al-Qa’ida is focusing on targets that would produce mass casualties, dramatic destruction, and significant economic aftershocks.
I want to be as clear as I can about the danger we face for two reasons. First, I’m a CIA Director—warning about foreign threats to our national security is part of my job.
Second, in discussing the operational space available to my Agency, I want to explain exactly why we feel so strongly about using every inch we’re given. We bear responsibility for standing watch on this threat. That fact alone has the distinct effect of focusing the mind.
But we bear an additional responsibility as well. CIA is charged with prosecuting an expeditionary campaign to help capture or kill those behind that threat.
And this is a form of warfare unlike any other in our country’s history. It’s an intelligence war as much as a military one—maybe even more so. In the post-9/11 era, intelligence is more crucial to the security of our nation than ever before.
That’s a fairly sweeping assertion, so let me spell out what I mean with a historical analogy.
The Soviet Union’s most deadly forces—its ICBMs and tank armies—were relatively easy to find, but hard to kill. Intelligence was important, but overshadowed by the need for sheer firepower.
Today, the situation is reversed. We are now in an age in which our primary adversary is easy to kill, but hard to find. You can understand why so much emphasis in the last five years has been on intelligence.
Moreover, the moment of our enemy’s attack may be just that—a moment, a split-second—the time it takes for an airliner to crash or a bomb to detonate. There can be little or no time to defeat him on the battlefield he’s chosen.
But behind that point of attack is a trail of planning, travel, communication, training, and all the other elements that go into a large-scale terrorist operation. This is where there are secrets we can steal, operatives we can capture and interrogate, plots we can and must disrupt. This is the theater of operations for a clandestine intelligence service. This is where the American people expect us to fight.
And, in this fight, we’ve leveraged every inch of the space we’ve been given to operate. I want to briefly discuss two important aspects of our post-9/11 operations to put them in proper perspective: first, our rendition, detention, and interrogation programs, and then our close collaboration with allied intelligence services.
The first thing you need to know is that CIA’s programs—which are carefully controlled and lawfully conducted—are hardly the centerpiece of our effort. Nor are they nearly as big as some think. But the intelligence they’ve produced is irreplaceable.
That intelligence has been used not only by this nation’s national security agencies, but by our fellow members of the Atlantic Alliance and other key allies. It has been crucial in giving us a better understanding of the enemy we face, as well as leads on taking other terrorists off the battlefield.
Intelligence is sometimes described as analogous to putting the pieces of a puzzle together—except that we rarely ever get to see the picture on the box. The individuals that have been detained by CIA always provide us with new puzzle pieces, and very often they have seen the picture on the box.
For example, a substantial portion of the National Intelligence Estimate I mentioned earlier—in terms of its judgments and assumptions—is informed by the intelligence we’ve obtained from our detention program. More than 70 percent of the human intelligence reporting used in that estimate is based on information from detainees.
A year and a day ago, the President publicly acknowledged the existence of CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Since it began with the capture of Abu Zubaidah in the spring of 2002, fewer than 100 people have been detained at CIA’s facilities. And the number of renditions, apart from the fewer than a hundred detainees, is itself an even smaller number.
These programs are targeted and selective. They were designed for only the most dangerous terrorists and those believed to have the most valuable information, such as knowledge of planned attacks. But they also have been the subject of wild speculation, both here and overseas.
Case in point: a European Parliament temporary committee has claimed that, and I quote, “at least 1,245 flights operated by the CIA flew into European airspace or stopped over at European airports between the end of 2001 and the end of 2005.” And it said so in a context that implied that many—or even most—were rendition flights.
The actual number of rendition flights ever flown by CIA is a tiny fraction of that. And the suggestion that even a substantial number of those 1,245 flights were carrying detainees is absurd on its face.
What did some of these flights carry? It could be equipment to support our people in the field. Documents that we’re sharing with our allies. Maybe even me.
Flights like the ones I take to visit our allies are good things. They are signs of our close cooperation.
As a method used against the most dangerous terrorists, there’s nothing new about renditions for either America or our allies. Consider the cases of Carlos the Jackal and Abdullah Ocalan, whose renditions were upheld by European courts.
Renditions before and since 9/11 share some basic features. They’ve been conducted lawfully, responsibly, and with a clear and simple purpose: to get terrorists off the streets and gain intelligence on those still at large. Our detention and interrogation program flows from the same inescapable logic.
And a lot of what you hear about our interrogation and debriefing techniques is not only false, but it tends to obscure a point our officers understand well: when face-to-face with a detained terrorist, the most effective tool—bar none—is knowledge. That means things like familiarity with the subject’s background, knowing the right questions to ask, and countering lies with facts. One detainee, for example, became quite cooperative in his debriefing when he arrived at a site and we told him not only who we were, but also who he was—and then we added where he came from and his operational history!
If CIA, with all our expertise in counterterrorism, had not stepped forward to hold and interrogate men like Abu Zubaidah and Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, people in America, Europe, and elsewhere would be right to ask why. We shouldered that responsibility for just one reason: to learn all we can about our nation’s most deadly enemies so that our operations to undermine them are as effective as possible.
Serious people in free societies are still grappling with how best to address the fight against terrorists in a way that is both effective in protecting our people and consistent with our liberal democratic principles and traditions. The exchange of ideas between our societies is building a stronger consensus on the way forward.
It’s not hard to see increasing signs of this cross-pollination—and of a growing realization that we all confront a distinctly new type of threat. Germany’s interior minister, Wolfgang Schauble, recently cast the situation in these terms:
“The fact is that the old categories no longer apply...The fight against international terrorism cannot be mastered by the classic methods of the police … we have to clarify whether our constitutional state is sufficient for confronting the new threats.”
While the dialogue continues on how best to conduct this fight, we and our partners stand united on its larger purpose. And this much is certain: America cannot win this war without allies.
My deputy Steve Kappes and I have gone to dozens of countries in our first year—many have been visited more than once. I cannot overstate how vital these relationships are to our overall effort.
For when I talk about winning this war, I do so in full knowledge that it is a highly complex and long-term struggle fought on two levels—what I call the close fight and the deep fight. And our foreign partners are pivotal to success on both fronts.
The close fight is very straightforward—it’s about people who want to kill us. They can’t be stopped unless we kill or capture them.
On this front, our foreign partners extend our reach and help us across the spectrum of our operations. The efforts of multiple services are often coordinated against a terrorist or group that has regional or global affiliations. Our collaboration has disrupted attacks that could have been on the same scale as those of 9/11.
The UK airliner plot and the takedowns of Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, Mullah Dadullah, and many, many others show what can be accomplished by close teamwork among allies. We’ve used that teamwork and every lawful tactic at our disposal—every inch of the space we’re given—to protect all our citizens from terrorist brutality.
We’ve had strong success in the close fight. But we face an adaptive and resilient enemy who poses a heightened threat, as I mentioned earlier.
I talked recently with a reporter friend about my hard-to-find/easy-to-kill model. With his usual insight, my friend added—once again, unlike the Soviet Union—that al-Qa’ida, in addition to being hard to find, is quick to regenerate. Al-Qa’ida has compensated for losing its Afghan safehaven and key operational lieutenants by regrouping in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where they’ve recruited from a ready pool of adherents.
And therein lies the deep fight: blunting the jihadists’ appeal to disenchanted young Muslim men—and, increasingly, young Muslim women as well. The deep fight requires discrediting and eliminating the jihadist ideology that motivates the hatred and violence. It requires winning a war of ideas.
I recognize that some of the actions required by the close war can make fighting the deep war even more complicated. But it’s rare in life that doing nothing is a legitimate or morally acceptable course of action. Responsibility demands action. Dealing with the immediate threat must naturally be our first priority.
Killing and capturing terrorists keeps them at bay and protects our people. But defeating the worldview responsible for producing those terrorists diminishes the threat itself. Winning the war of ideas defines the long-term victory we and our allies seek.
I want to be absolutely clear that this conflict is not about religion. The war of ideas is not about Islam. It’s about fanatics whose victims most often have been Muslims. The terrorists must be exposed for the scourge they are and reviled for the horror and suffering they inflict. Only then can they be uprooted at their source.
The deep fight, which our society as a whole must wage, requires that jihadist ideas of violence, extremism, and intolerance be countered by ideas of peace, moderation, and inclusion. It requires a tireless global campaign by a broad coalition of nations and societies. But it’s our friends in the Islamic world, repulsed by al-Qa’ida’s savage distortion of their faith, who must take a leading role.
Any discussion of this war—and certainly this war of ideas—would be incomplete without reference to global media. It is one of the decisive battlegrounds in the post-9/11 era. It’s where al-Qa’ida can attempt to spread its grand illusion of a noble struggle, or where its operatives can be revealed as murderers who try to justify their atrocities with a violent, bankrupt ideology.
The duty of a free press is to report the facts as they are found. By sticking to that principle, journalists accomplish a great deal in exposing al-Qa’ida and its adherents for what they are.
Just as they report on the terrorists, it’s the job of journalists to report on the how the war against terrorism is being fought. And when their spotlight is cast on intelligence activities, sound judgment and a thorough understanding of all the equities at play are critically important. Revelations of sources and methods—and an impulse to drag anything CIA does to the darkest corner of the room—can make it very difficult for us to do our vital work.
When our operations are exposed—legal, authorized operations overseen by Congress—it reduces the space and damages the tools we use to protect Americans. After the press reported how banking records on the international SWIFT network could be monitored, I read a claim that this leak—and I quote—“bears no resemblance to security breaches, like disclosure of troop locations, that would clearly compromise the immediate safety of specific individuals.”
I disagree. In a war that largely depends on our success in collecting intelligence on the enemy, publishing information on our sources and methods can be just as damaging as revelations of troop or ship movements were in the past. Now, the compromise to safety can be both immediate and lasting, extending far beyond specific individuals.
Each revelation of our methods—in tracking terrorists, WMD, or other threats—allows our enemies to cover their tracks and change their practices. And it takes us valuable time to readjust in kind.
Some say there is no evidence that leaks of classified information have harmed national security. As CIA Director, I’m telling you there is, and they have. Let me give you just two examples:
- In one case, leaks provided ammunition for a government to prosecute and imprison one of our sources, whose family was also endangered. The revelations had an immediate, chilling effect on our ability to collect against a top-priority target.
- In another, a spate of media reports cost us several promising counterterrorism and counterproliferation assets. Sources not even involved in the exposed operation lost confidence that their relationship with us could be kept secret, and they stopped reporting.
I’ve told you how liaison relationships with our foreign partners are critical to the war effort. Several years before the 9/11 attacks, a press leak of liaison intelligence prompted one country’s service to stop cooperating with us on counterterrorism for two years.
More recently, more than one foreign service has told us that, because of public disclosures, they had to withhold intelligence that they otherwise would have shared with us. That gap in information puts Americans at risk.
Those who are entrusted with America’s secrets and break that trust by divulging those secrets are guilty of a crime. But those who seek such information and then choose to publish it are not without responsibilities.
I have a very deep respect for journalists and for their profession. Many of them—especially in the years since 9/11—have given their lives in the act of keeping our citizens informed. They are smart, dedicated, and courageous men and women. I count many of them as colleagues. We each have an important role to play in the defense of the Republic.
My point is, there are times when life-and-death issues are at stake when intelligence activities are the subject of press reports. Journalists, on their own, simply don’t have all the facts needed to make the call on whether the information can be released without harm. I’ve heard some justify a release based on their view of the sensitivity of a story’s content, with no understanding of the effect the release may have on the intelligence source at the heart of the story.
As I said, both journalists and intelligence officers have important roles to play in the defense of the Republic. A free press is critical to good government. But when the media claims an oversight role on our clandestine operations, it does so in an arena where we cannot clarify, explain, or defend our actions without doing further damage to our sources and methods.
It’s important to bear in mind that my Agency is subject to another oversight mechanism that has full access to our operations and takes our security requirements into account: it’s the people’s representatives in Congress.
CIA has asked for robust authorities so that we can better fulfill our responsibility to prevent another attack like 9/11—but not without congressional oversight. Close interaction with Congress is an essential part of our social contract with the American people.
I’ll give you some statistics—all of them are for calendar year 2007—that underscore our vigorous support of the oversight process:
- CIA officers have testified in 57 congressional hearings and are responding to 29 congressionally-legislated requests for information.
- We have answered 1,140 QFRs—that’s “questions for the record”—as well as 254 other letters, questions, and requests.
- Our experts have given more than 500 briefings to congressional members and staffs.
- And we have issued some 100 congressional notifications on our sensitive programs.
Everything is on the table. I personally have briefed the Hill nine times on renditions, detentions, and interrogations.
I mention all this because, contrary to some of the things you might read in a book, glean from a movie, or read in a newspaper, CIA acts within a strong framework of law and oversight. We are responsive to both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. We have an Office of General Counsel that is larger than many foreign intelligence services, and our OGC officers have a defining say in how we conduct our operations.
We work very hard to earn the public trust we need to do our job. This is especially important because the counterterrorism part of our global mission isn’t going to go away anytime soon. This war will define our priorities well into the future.
All of you here at the Council play a special role in informing the public debate on this and every other major issue of foreign policy and national security. I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about the work we do at CIA, and to contribute to the public’s understanding of our war effort.
I came here as a member of two organizations that mean a lot to me. And this month marks the 60th anniversary of both the United States Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency.
I’ve been with the Air Force for 38 of its 60 years. I’m proud to be an airman, to wear the uniform, and to be part of that great family.
I’ve been with CIA for about 16 months, but I’ve worked closely with its officers for much of my career. I have a much deeper familiarity with the Agency than those 16 months would suggest.
We at CIA are no strangers to criticism, and that’s been true throughout our history. Sometimes it’s justified. But often it is not.
Much of what I’ve seen in the press and read in some books simply doesn’t square with the devotion and skill I see everyday, whether at Langley or in a war zone. The men and women of CIA are among the most gifted, talented people I’ve ever had the good fortune to work with. And at 130,000 applications a year, we’ve had the opportunity to pick some exceptionally intelligent, creative officers.
We haven’t just been lucky, and it isn’t as if the terrorists have been lazy. Such notions fail to explain the lack of an attack inside the United States in the last six years.
Our nation’s bulwark is that group of experts—at CIA, the National Counterterrorism Center, and across the Intelligence Community—who help prosecute this war with their deep knowledge of the enemy and their tight collaboration against a shared target.
I’ve been out to visit our people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places where the risk and hardship for CIA employees are greatest. I’ve seen them work seamlessly with their colleagues in the armed forces, participating in joint operations that have brought the fight directly to the enemy’s redoubt.
And I’ve seen our officers here at home take quiet satisfaction in seeing the photograph of a terrorist they’ve tracked for years appear on CNN after his capture. It might be a face and a name unrecognizable to most viewers, but not to those who have written countless cables, drafted finished intelligence reports, and briefed dozens of policymakers and congressmen on that one target.
Each of these victories adds up to a safer nation. Each is testimony to the tireless dedication and resolve of our men and women, for whom the memory of 9/11 is neither distant nor diminished.
At our Headquarters building, in a counterterrorism office I visit often, there’s a sign that has been up for just about six years now, but it’s one that never blends into the woodwork. It simply reads, “Today’s date is September 12th 2001.”
That is how we at CIA approach this war. And we do so knowing we must continuously earn the trust of the American people for the operational space we need to fulfill our vital mission.