Donald Trump risks damaging intelligence agencies, warns former CIA chief

Michael Hayden says disparaging comments about US spies could hurt the moral authority of their leaders

Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden says he is concerned about whether Trump will accept the advice of the country’s spies.
Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden says he is concerned about whether Trump will accept the advice of the country’s spies. Photograph: Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Donald Trump’s public disparagement of US intelligence agencies would have a discouraging effort on the country’s spies and undermine the moral authority of their leaders to send them “into harm’s way”, a former CIA director said on Wednesday

Michael Hayden, who served as director of the NSA and then the CIA during the George W Bush administration, entered the growing controversy over the president-elect’s attitude towards the US intelligence community. Trump has questioned its conclusion that Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee and the CIA’s reported finding that Moscow had meddled in the presidential election in Trump’s favour.

It also emerged that Trump had only met intelligence officials to receive what is normally a daily briefing, four times since the election. “I get it when I need it,” he said. An aide said on Wednesday that he would from now on receive a presidential daily brief three times a week instead of just once.

Hayden said that missing the daily briefing would be discouraging “but may not be catastrophic” if he was well briefed by top aides. However the public denigration of the work of the intelligence agencies would be more damaging, Hayden said.

“That would be very discouraging, if the information is rejected, if the information is never used,” Hayden told the Guardian in an interview. “That information is sometimes bought at great price. A director of the CIA sends people into harm’s way to get information otherwise unavailable. If it’s not used, if it’s rejected or it’s contradicted, under what moral authority then would I as a director send these men and women out to do it?”

Hayden, who served as NSA director from 1999 to 2005 and CIA director from 2006 to 2009, said: “I have been fairly concerned about what the president-elect has said. It’s not just the question of Russian hacking and his reluctance to accept what appears to be good evidence that the Russians did this.

“There is the broader question I’m concerned about,” he added. “Will the president accept the intelligence guys to come in and give him points of view that are different from his a priori assumptions or beliefs? That’s really important, so I’m looking for clues about that.”

He noted that Jimmy Carter had preferred to be briefed by his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and suggested that once in office, Trump might prefer to get his briefings from his vice president, Mike Pence. Asked about the potential role of the man Trump has picked to be his national security adviser, retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn, Hayden expressed reservations.

“Mike is going to have to act a bit differently from how he has during the campaign. Mike is tactically brilliant. He has been a very successful general officer at the tactical level. This is a strategic job, so it’s going to extend him,” Hayden said. “And especially for this president who has said some intemperate things on the campaign, I would like the national security adviser to be a calming influence and Mike in the campaign was at least as intemperate as the president.”

The former CIA and NSA director was speaking after giving an address at a conference on terrorism organised by the Jamestown Foundation thinktank, at which he was also critical Trump’s proposed counter-terrorist strategy, in particular the suggestion that the US might find common cause with Russia in Syria to fight the Islamic State.

“Im personally very sceptical of any convergence between Russian and US interests in this part of the world,” he said, pointing to Russian support for the Assad regime, which he argued was generating terrorism by its repression.

“[Trump] literally said: if you fight Isis you’re our friend,” he said. “Well, the world is a complicated place. There are other issues out there.”

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Author, Pastor, Development and Valuation Surveyor, CEO LandAssets Consult Ltd., Publisher, The Property Gazette.

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