February 26, 2016

A blunt defense of interrogations, targeted killings and domestic spying

By Robert D. Kaplan

People living in a democracy in an age of electronic communications can be altogether fickle. After a mass casualty attack, they demand total vengeance on the killers and their co-conspirators. But once severe retribution is exacted and normalcy returns, these same people may accuse their security organs of going too far in their methods. The safer they feel, the less tolerant they are regarding the methods of those who keep them safe. Therefore, the art of intelligence gathering is to get the balance right: Be ruthless enough to protect the citizenry but not so ruthless as to fundamentally undermine the values of liberal democracy. Retired Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who ran the National Security Agency (NSA) and the CIA in virtual succession during the George W. Bush administration, walked this tightrope for a decade. Renditions, interrogations, targeted killings and domestic telephone surveillance were all part of his responsibility. And he defends it all in his blunt, incisive and unapologetic memoir, “Playing to the Edge.”

Read the full op-ed in The Washington Post.