Three days before President Mr. Obama announced changes in NSA and limitations to Government access to phone data, participants at 32nd Annual J. P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in SF, had an opportunity to listen to the luncheon keynote address given by General Michael Hayden, former director of National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency. See below some highlights from the talk.
Traditionally lunch keynotes at JPM conference have been given by conservative political figures. Hayden is known to have headed the super secret agency from 1995 to 2005 and oversaw some of the controversial programs that followed 9/11. He has always defended them as effective and proper. At JPM keynote however, Hayden did not give his opinions but mostly discuss the increasing complexity in the world, where the choices are limited and equally complex, with varying ramifications.
Hayden painted a realistic, complex, and scary picture of the world. In the new hyper connected world, the boundaries are less defined, said Hayden. Previously, it was easy to classify the world into domestic and foreign; intelligence and law enforcement. However, geographical and other boundaries are not that well marked, in this new world. Today, a security establishment tries to defend the nation against threats that do not neatly fit into domestic or foreign, said Hayden. To bolster his argument, he quoted the example of Edward Snowden’s actions and its wide ranging implications.
Hayden also said that US has parted ways with its allies a while back. For instance, while US believes in the use of force, our allies believe that its usefulness is limited. In the US, law is not concerned with privacy issues of an individual who is not a US citizen. Whereas in Europe, there is a broader sense of expectation of privacy as a sacred human right, said Hayden. “Values matter and we have fundamental value differences with our allies”, said Hayden.
Speaking of China, he said, China does not present any major threat to the us because our economies are deeply integrated, with the Chinese economy more dependent on the US than the other way around. In the coming years, China will face huge labor shortages, due to its one child policy.
Speaking about Al Qaeda, Hayden said, it is not a group, but a movement, focused on scaling “a leaderless jihad”. Al Qaeda represents some of the toughest choices. If the US is too tough, too soon then it may be able to squash trouble, before it becomes bigger, but on the other hand, an early use of force can turn people against the US, said Hayden. In some regions, Al Qaeda only focuses on local grievances and not on the US. If the US goes there to squash the group in its infancy then it can snuff out the trouble before it begins or it might end up focusing the groups efforts on the US as its new enemy. Also how the US defines a problem can affect the adoption of the strategy.
Hayden also gave his opinions on his former boss, President Mr. Bush as well as on President Obama. President Bush’s style was Wilsonian and Jacksonian, said Hayden. When it came to dealing with external threats, President Bush was an idealist and aggressive and he tended to be rhetorical. President Obama is also Wilsonian, in that he is idealist and rhetorical. But additionally, he is Jeffersonian, a thinker, said Hayden. Hayden is believed to have said before that it is important to understand the scary world we live in and keep a focus on safety, while also protecting civil liberties. I would have loved to hear his perspectives on how these competing issues would be balanced. Instead, Hayden focused on sharing his thoughts on the complex set of challenges that the government or the government security agencies like the NSA and the CIA face on a daily basis and discussing how any choice they make could put them on a path of novel set of choices and challenges.