Michael Hayden was CIA director from 2006 to 2009. No one was waterboarded under his watch. But General Hayden has vigorously defended the CIA’s role in interrogating al Qaeda prisoners. Here is an excerpt form a fascinating interview with Hayden, just published by the CIA’s house organ, Studies in Intelligence:

I didn’t quite defend all the [enhanced interrogation] techniques. I certainly didn’t defend waterboarding. Remember, I said earlier [in the interview] that George Tenet made the tough decisions that I thank God I didn’t have to make. People ask me, “Well, what would you have done?” and I say, “I thank God I didn’t have to make that decision,” and that’s as far as I go. What I did was point out that whatever you may think of this, it worked and we did indeed get life-saving intelligence out of it.

So the point I would make to folks who say, “I don’t want you doing this, and it doesn’t work anyway,” I would point out, “Whoa. Stop. The front half of that sentence, you can say; that’s yours, you own that, ‘I don’t want you doing it.’ The back half of that sentence is not yours. That’s mine. And the fact is it did work. So here is the sentence you have to give. ‘Even though it may have worked, I still don’t want you doing it.’ That requires courage. That requires you going out to the American people and saying, ‘We’re looking at a tradeoff here folks, and I want you to understand the tradeoff.’” I can live with that tradeoff. I can live with the person who makes that tradeoff. Either way. That’s an honorable position. But I felt duty-bound to be true to the facts.

There’s a second element. I felt morally obligated to the people in the Agency not to allow them to feel as if they had been abandoned by the senior leadership. What they did was done out of duty, not enthusiasm. They weren’t volunteers; they were thrown into the breach. The republic asked them to do things that were very difficult, and they did them. And they did them frankly knowing that there would be a day—after the republic felt safe again—that some people would begin to question their actions.

Hayden ranges over a wide number of other issues, including CIA deliberations about disclosing what it knows of the North Korean nuclear facility in Syria that was destroyed in an Israeli raid in September 2007. The entire interview is a must-read for anyone interested in intelligence.

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