Mike Hayden on the Most Disruptive Element in the World Today

By Carrie Cordero
Sunday, October 22, 2017, 3:57 PM

Earlier this month, George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security hosted its annual conference on the Ethos and Profession of Intelligence, an event that is co-sponsored by the CIA. This year’s event included a panel discussion, moderated by current Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence (PDDNI) Sue Gordon, with four previous directors of the CIA: William Webster, Porter Goss, Mike Hayden and John Brennan. The entire discussion is worth watching or listening to, and is available here.

But, I write to draw attention specifically to the remarks of Mike Hayden. PDDNI Gordon asked each of the former directors to comment on what they saw as the most pressing threat or issue facing the U.S. today. She probably expected some variation of answers that might have included the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, a rising Russia or China, or international terrorism. Even climate change would have been within the realm. Instead, this is what she got from Hayden (beginning around minute 5:35 of the video):

…I am going to be very candid, Sue, with regard to what it is I would worry about now? Us. Okay? Not CIA, us. The United States, us. I have been saying, for the last several months, the most disruptive element in the world today, is the United States. It’s not because we are being aggressive or we’ve got legions ready to cross borders, or anything like that. But we are in a massive transition globally. We have assumed a particular and peculiar role for the last 75 years. The foundation on which that role was based - Bretton Woods and all that – is eroding, and the rest of the world is simply looking at us and saying, so where are you guys on 2.0? Because, 1.0 you created, and you sustained, and now they are asking what is it you view your role to be, and until that question is answered, I do think that the globe is in a whole lot of white water, until we answer that question. [Note: unofficial transcript; emphasis added.]

Hayden gave an address last spring at Penn Law at a conference on Foreign Interference with Democratic Institutions in which I also participated, so I was not entirely surprised by these latest remarks. But for those who have not been following his, and other former intelligence chiefs’, warnings about the state of U.S. national security and foreign policy as closely, this statement is remarkable for not only what it says, but who is saying it. Hayden served as the first principal deputy director of national intelligence, the National Security Agency director and the CIA director. He speaks after an entire career analyzing, assessing, facing down and disrupting foreign threats. I don’t doubt for a minute that these remarks, and his willingness to speak them publicly, are not done lightly.

I learned long ago, from a different senior career intelligence officer who also rose to lead the community, that the number one goal of the U.S. intelligence community is to provide warning. Hayden might no longer be at the helm of the community, but he sure is doing his part to sound the alarm.