An unprecedented high-level master narrative of America's intelligence wars from the only person ever to helm both the CIA and NSA, at a time of heinous new threats and wrenching change.
For General Michael Hayden, playing to the edge means playing so close to the line that you get chalk dust on your cleats. Otherwise, by playing back, you may protect yourself, but you will be less successful in protecting America.
"Play to the edge" was Hayden's guiding principle when he ran the National Security Agency, and it remained so when he ran the CIA. In his view, many shortsighted and uninformed people are quick to criticize, and this book will give them much to chew on but little easy comfort; it is an unapologetic insider's look told from the perspective of the people who faced awesome responsibilities head on, in the moment.
How did American intelligence respond to terrorism, a major war, and the most sweeping technological revolution in the last 500 years? What was the NSA before 9/11, and how did it change in its aftermath? Why did the NSA begin the controversial terrorist surveillance program that included the acquisition of domestic phone records? What else was set in motion during this period that formed the backdrop for the infamous Snowden revelations in 2013?
As director of the CIA in the last three years of the Bush administration, Hayden had to deal with the rendition, detention, and interrogation program as bequeathed to him by his predecessors. He also had to ramp up the agency to support its role in the targeted killing program that began to dramatically increase in July 2008. This was a time of great crisis at the CIA, and some agency veterans have credited Hayden with actually saving the agency. He himself won't go that far, but he freely acknowledges that the CIA helped turn the American security establishment into the most effective killing machine in the history of armed conflict.
For 10 years, then, General Michael Hayden was a participant in some of the most telling events in the annals of American national security. General Hayden's goals in writing this book are simple and unwavering: no apologies. No excuses. Just what happened. And why. As he writes, "There is a story here that deserves to be told, without varnish and without spin. My view is my view, and others will certainly have different perspectives, but this view deserves to be told to create as complete a history as possible of these turbulent times. I bear no grudges, or at least not many, but I do want this to be a straightforward and readable history for that slice of the American population who depend on and appreciate intelligence but who do not have the time to master its many obscure characteristics."
©2016 Michael V. Hayden (P)2016 Penguin Audio
It was enlightening.
I think everyone who cares about a free society should listen to this memoir.
The information is provided, the listener has to employ critical thinking.
I have seen MVH give several interviews prior to the release of his book. I was intrigued in what he had to say, since I found him generally engaging, willing to discuss details of many CIA activities, and overall interesting. I was hoping for an insider's take on the workings of modern day CIA, especially in the cyber age. Overall, I felt it fell short. I would say the first "half" of the book somewhat delivered on that. While I understand the inability to release information that would be classified and the review process of something MVH would write, there was not much there in terms of information that was not already known to most individuals who watch or read the news with some regularity or much analysis from America's top spy. The second "half" was, frankly, a lot of complaining about people/groups who are for more a more open CIA (read Snowden, Greenwald, Congress, etc...) I found this portion of the book very off-putting, and had a very whiny tone to it. I just do not care to listen to MVH whine about it....He did not even do a great job justifying his positions. I was very disappointed in this aspect of the book.
In general, it wasn't a biography, although you learn much about his past and upbringing. It is not a critique of modern-day CIA, although he sheds some (little) light on how things work (except for the unnecessarily long part about Intelligence leadership). It is not a piece about how we should weigh "freedom" vs "safety" although he has a clear opinion. Frankly, I just am not sure what the book is and the overall "point" to me was never evident.
Some may find it more interesting than I did. I would give it a solid "OK". Overall, lacked a theme and a clear story, a collection of thoughts...in a somewhat chronological order.
GEN Hayden shares a frank and honest assessment from his life inside the CIA and NSA, and from a career spent serving in the intelligence arena. Truly inspiring and heartfelt, recommended to all Americans and those who need reminding what makes America great!
Michael Hayden lived the NBA and CIA stories that have been talked about and highly politicized over the past 15+ years. There's always two sides to a story. Politicians and the news media rarely get it right. Michael Hayden gives a clear and believable account.
This book is an excellent addition to the books by Gates and Panetta. It undistorts most of the record created by headlines, politicians and pundits which we receive every day and is rarely corrected. Bush is characterized as a hands-on and knowledgeable user of intelligence data. Obama is characterized as someone who is motivated more by politics than by the proper operations of the intelligence agencies. Holder and Feinstein are shown to be headline grabbers with little concern for accuracy or agency effectiveness. The Iranian nuclear deal is described as probably the best that could have been done with regard to producing weapons grade material but ignores completely the production of missiles or nuclear devices while freeing up assets to be used in such matters.
Reading, the arts and physical activity clarify, explain, illustrate, and interpret life’s goods and bads.
Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror, By Michael V. Hayden, a retired United States Air Force four-star general and former Director of the National Security Agency (NSA), Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (DIA). The book tells the story of what was and has been our recent espionage readiness, capabilities, goals and our successes and failures since the millennium. More importantly, he provided consideration whether the acts undertaken by the U.S. were proper or unethical. Gen. Hayden answers those questions against the domestic political background and in relationship to the geopolitical polity in the foreign theatre – and in context with the individual personalities of the time. If you want to participate in any discussion of who we are as an intelligence gathering nation and how we use covert actions to protect our interests, this study is your primer.
What makes this most interesting though are two additional factors. General Hayden possesses a masterful mind for conceptualizing the issues and is effective in explaining the problems and their related progeny. Then he tells all – much more than I would have expected the government to have permitted him to tell. General Hayden is no ideologue, but a searcher seeking harmony in meeting both our constitutional and self-protection goals. Really, an insightful reading (listening).
General Hayden’s writing style is to introduce you to the state of affairs when he came on the scene, what alternatives he had in going forward, how that agency and its obligations grew or matured once he put his directives into effect and finally adds little stories or vignettes to exemplify the results of his work or for that matter the political milieu in which the espionage function needed to work. He does not tell only of successes but failures as well.
The book carries on the various debates concerning the dilemma. For example, Stellawind the top secrete electronic communications intercept system of the post 9/11 attack, was explained by General Hayden. He explicates it was fully vetted and the positives and negatives of that vetting, explains why it was rationally put into place, why it was nurtured by all, knowing it was a program near the “edge.” He does not hide from the fact it left the dilemma of American’s individual rights of freedom in our personal affairs and the need to protect from another 9/11 attack. The General is no Pollyanna, he recognizes that humans are too genetically calculated into what is good for them as opposed to what is good for the all. (So sorry about that Communism.) On the other hand, he argues that Stellawind, although it allowed for that humanoid evil to someday come into effect in managing the program, the program was nevertheless working, and just because the U.S. has not been attacked since it was taken away from the spy spoofs does not prove that somewhere down the line it might have protected us by locating a threat where ISIS agents are in place. It is a dilemma we have not resolved. This is an example about how deep he examines all issues.
The book covers a plethora of other issues. Here is a review of some to be found in the book. If you want to learn about how the espionage community considers its duties in light of the second amendment – it’s here. Augments on behalf of the surveillance authorities concerning review of internal U.S. metadata – it’s here. Then, of course, you have the discussion on enhanced interrogation and drone attacks. I must admit, General Hayden’s review of their histories, development and their present day status provided me with lots of relevant information I had not known, and thus considered. End results, the arguments pro and con are more subtle and difficult than portrayed in the news. All that is here as well.
Really interesting was the mess that Congress made in creating the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and its effect (non-effect) on the overall intelligence community, and in particular the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI). In short, the DNI has no authority to direct and control any of the 16 units of the Intelligence Community (IC) except his own staff. The IC member elements in the executive branch are directed and controlled by their respective department heads, all cabinet-level officials reporting to the President. By law, only the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency reports to the DNI; and that does not always seem to be the case. Of course there is also the President's Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB), with its component Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB), an independent element within the Executive Office of the President. Isn’t that Americana for you? The book is filled with a lots of stuff like this.
It's nice to get the full story rather than edited snippets a la CNN and Fox News. If everyone knew this, support for the government would be twice what it is now. But fear mongering and a good "story" raise money where the mundane truth does not. Sad.
Although I disagree with many points expressed by Mr. Hayden in the book I enjoyed it thoroughly and understood many things in regards to intelligence, especially signal intelligence, which I had not understood before reading to the book. The book is very honest revealing and educational.
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