General Michael Hayden (@GenMhayden) is a retired United States Air Force general, former Director of the CIA and NSA, and author of The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies.

What We Discuss with General Michael Hayden:

  • Why the current administration revoking security clearance of dissenting intelligence leadership is a big deal — and why General Hayden believes it sets a precedent that threatens national security.
  • The phenomenon of the unpleasant fact knows no political allegiance.
  • Why it’s imperative that we know how to tell uncomfortable truths in any field — whether we’re intelligence agents, business owners, or team members.
  • How intelligence agents and operators at the highest levels of power in government create and maintain relationships and handle sensitive conflicts.
  • An inside look at the game of espionage and why it’s a crucial force for those of us who live in a democracy.
  • And much more…
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If you’ve been paying attention to current events, you’ve doubtless read about ex-CIA head John Brennan recently being stripped of his security clearance by the White House for making unflattering statements about the administration. And if you’re like a lot of Americans — on either side of the aisle — you might be wondering what’s really happening behind the scenes and what this means for the country as a whole.

Joining us for this episode is the perfect person to ask: General Michael Hayden, himself a former NSA and CIA head and author of The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies. Here, we discuss why security clearance of former classified leadership matters, why the intelligence community needs to know it can relay uncomfortable truths to the administration without fear of reprisal, and what General Hayden feels is the way forward in the midst of the current political climate. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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In the especially divisive climate of American politics today, it’s important to remember there are more sides to any issue that hits the news cycle than may seem obvious to the casual observer — particularly a casual observer who’s already chosen his or her “side.”

So when ex-CIA head John Brennan was stripped of his security clearance by the White House for making public remarks criticizing the current administration, the public tends to split into two camps: those who tend to support the administration believing the president acted within his rights, and those who don’t support the administration believing the whole thing to be a travesty. It’s rarer to find someone in either camp who can answer the really important question: why does it matter?

The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies author and ex-CIA and NSA head General Michael Hayden knows why.

Why Revoking Security Clearance Matters

First, it’s generally to the benefit of the US government to maintain security clearance of past intelligence personnel in case it needs to call on them and their vast resources of experience in the future. But someone who’s had his or her security clearance revoked — such as John Brennan — becomes ineligible for a number of positions even outside of government for which they’d be otherwise uniquely qualified.

Making an example of Brennan and putting out the word that others (including General Hayden) could have their clearance similarly revoked simply for exercising their right to free speech is what General Hayden considers an abuse of presidential power — and one that not only threatens the livelihood of intelligence leadership of the past, but adds a layer of difficulty for those tasked with trying to maintain national security today.

“The president yesterday just messaged the entire American intelligence community — ‘If you persist in saying things I don’t like or with which I do not agree, I can punish you and I probably will’ — which is a horrible message for him,” says General Hayden. “Because the intelligence community needs the freedom to go in there with some confidence to tell him things they believe to be true whether he wants to hear them or not.”

The Phenomenon of the Unpleasant Fact

Playing the role of the messenger who has to deliver information to ears that don’t want to hear it is never an enviable task, but it’s an important one even when the messenger’s career isn’t in danger simply for saying what needs to be said.

General Hayden calls this the phenomenon of the unpleasant fact.

“If you’re going in there to a policy maker and you feel as if you have to tell him something that cuts against his politics, his preference, his policy, his personality, you know it’s not going to be a happy meeting,” says General Hayden. But you go in there and you do it. But when you’re going to go in there, there is a hesitancy because you know you’d better get your act together. You’d better be able to defend yourself, because you’re going to really hit some headwinds in there.

“What happens sometimes is that you don’t go in there early enough to convince the first customer that he’s wrong about something and you don’t go in there in time for him to begin to make adjustments and you’ve made the problem even worse.

“This is not confined to President Trump. Remember President Obama and ISIS being the JV team? So who’s the guy who goes in there and says, ‘Hey, boss! I’ve been thinking…let me give you another way of looking at this problem.’ I suspect that, number one, the president should have been pushing back, but number two, they probably didn’t pound the desk early enough to say, ‘Boss, you’ve got to listen to me.’ President Trump has made that even more difficult by what he did yesterday.'”

Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about what good leaders understand about the necessity of hearing bad news (even if they happen to be the cause of that bad news), the pursuit of understanding the truth of how the world actually works over how we wish it did, survival strategies for bearers of bad news in any field — even when the boss is resistant to such news, the concerns General Hayden has for the state of the nation today and where it seems to be headed, and lots more.


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