18 February 2010

Thoughts from General Hayden

Just got the opportunity to hear from General Michael Hayden, who served as director of the NSA and later as Director of the CIA. Pretty interesting guy. His main idea? Who you are shapes how you'll lead. So he talked a lot about his hometown of Pittsburgh.

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Everyone is not entitled to their own facts." General Hayden played a significant role in the waterboarding controversy. He's thankful he didn't have to make the go/no-go policy decision, and he doesn't know what he would have done in his predecessor's shoes. He said he got many calls from congressmen telling him, "Stop water boarding because it's wrong, and it doesn't work anyway." He pointed out to each of them that they could say the first part - that's a matter of opinion - but not the second part. That's a matter of fact, and the facts say water boarding works.

Thus, the statement is a weak one. The strong statement? "I know water boarding works, but it's still wrong, so you need to stop."

"I never looked for an open table. I looked for an open seat." General Hayden said one of the most important things he did as CIA director was to eat in the cafeteria. He ate with his people, talked to them, heard their stories.

Some of those stories involved CIA family day. He said there were two types of people who came. The first, the twenty-somethings, brought their parents. Their parents proceeded to have an other-worldly experience. The second group, the forty-somethings, brought their teenagers. They'd walk up and say, "Mr. Director, Mrs. Hayden, this is my daughter, and today I told her where I work."

"Always stand between your people and those who wrongly accuse them." General Hayden dealt with this quite a bit, between the water boarding scandal at CIA and the terrorist surveillance - incorrectly dubbed domestic surveillance - at NSA. But he defended his people. That presumes, of course, that his people deserved defending.

The intelligence world is by nature shrouded in lies. But honesty within the organization and vertically to political leaders is critical. General Hayden dismissed anyone who did not deal honestly with the CIA or political leaders.

So, stand by the facts, and stand by your people.

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