Michael Hayden Discusses Role of CIA in Modern World

This year’s Jack Kelly and Gail Weiss Lecture in International Security, held in Nanovic Hall, took place before a standing-room only audience. General Michael Hayden’s talk, entitled “Intelligence for a Rapidly Changing World: What’s New and What’s the Same?” drew faculty, visitors and students alike.

Hayden, whose tenure as CIA Director lasted from 2006 to 2009, has also directed the NSA and Air Intelligence Agency and served in the Pentagon and National Security Council. Drawing on his expertise with a wide range of political entities, Hayden discussed a variety of topics ranging from the CIA’s historical involvement in foreign policy to current affairs in North Korea.

True to the lecture’s title, Hayden focused on the difference between current and past methods of intelligence gathering. He described current intelligence as “gathered” rather than as “stolen,” as it was described in the past. “Intelligence has to reinform itself not as a teller of secrets, but as a teller of stories,” he said. Hayden emphasized the importance of cultural and historical context in intelligence, stating that a deep understanding of a region’s political and religious background is crucial to policy.

Hayden described the challenges faced by intelligence agents, who often walk a difficult line when dealing with policy makers. Intelligence officers must “[get] in the head” of policy makers without annoying or alienating them. According to Hayden, the Trump administration requires a different approach to communication. Hayden described Trump’s confidence in his own insight as “preternatural,” stating politely but frankly that Trump will not always pay attention to facts: “President Trump has a tendency towards action at the expense of reflection.”

At the end of the lecture, Hayden took questions from the audience. When describing controversial topics or explaining tactical mistakes, Hayden took a rational and calm approach. He stated that the CIA tries to avoid covert action when at all possible, but that sometimes this approach is “the only choice you have between war and doing nothing.” Hayden emphasized that the CIA weighs carefully the decision to engage in covert action, reflecting upon whether the covert action is “part of a larger strategy” versus a means in and of itself. He stated that the CIA is not an association of “bad guys” as many Americans believe, but an entity that works for the American people.

In regards to North Korea, Hayden stated that the US needed to boost its defenses, especially in the Pacific Northwest. He argued that Kim Jong Un is not “crazy” but rather “ruthlessly calculating” concerning the survival of his regime.

Hayden wrapped up the Q&A by discussing the course of action for potential applicants to the CIA. He stated that the CIA receives 160,000 applications per year and gives the highest consideration to candidates who speak second languages and can work in foreign environments. In a brief private interview with the Rover, Hayden stated that Notre Dame’s emphasis on foreign languages and the liberal arts makes Notre Dame graduates “very attractive” CIA applicants. Students from virtually “any major” stand a chance at acceptance, and “work experience” remains the most important factor in admissions.

Sophomore Jena Yang left the lecture with an increased appreciation for the work done by the CIA and the regulations put in place as a result of this work.

“General Hayden explained that the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot, which resulted in the liquids ban, was uncovered by men and women who work secretly in intelligence,” Yang told the Rover. “I found it interesting how the majority of people, including myself, do not know where the liquids ban came from. It goes to show how underappreciated these men and women are, but their dedication keeps us safe every single day.”

Alison O’Neil is a sophomore history and environmental sciences major. She enjoys writing, running, travelling, and eating Mandarin oranges from the dining hall. Alison would like to thank St. Joseph of Cupertino for success on recent exams. You can contact her at aoneil1@nd.edu.