Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the both the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), is a principal at the Chertoff Group, a business consultancy established by former director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. Hayden is also a frequent commentator on Fox News who staunchly defends controversial "war on terror" policies and promotes aggressive U.S. foreign policies.
During his tenure in government, Hayden presided over several controversial government programs, including the warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens' phone calls and the use of armed drones overseas. Since leaving office, Hayden has insisted that the wiretapping program was "effective, appropriate, and lawful." A federal judge, however, subsequently ruled that the program likely violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was enacted by Congress "specifically to rein in and create a judicial check for executive-branch abuses of surveillance authority."
Hayden has repeatedly defended the Bush administration's use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques"—methods of interrogation that are commonly considered torture, such as waterboarding—against alleged high-ranking members of al-Qaeda. In 2008, Hayden confirmed that the CIA had waterboarded at least three detainees hundreds of times, citing that "the belief that additional catastrophic attacks against the homeland were inevitable."
After the assassination of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces in Pakistan, Hayden penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal claiming that he "personally took more than half of the [enhanced] techniques (including waterboarding) off the table in 2007 because American law had changed, our understanding of the threat had deepened, and we were now blessed with additional sources of information." But he also contended unequivocally that "Information derived from enhanced interrogation techniques helped lead us to bin Laden," even likening skeptics of the claim to 9/11 conspiracy theorists or those who believe that President Obama is not an American citizen. However, subsequent reports revealed that key intelligence leading up to the bin Laden raid was secured from detainees who were never tortured, and moreover that detainees who were tortured often provided false information that may have only prolonged the hunt for bin Laden. (For more information, see Peter Certo, "Enhanced Embellishment Techniques, " Right Web, June 8, 2011.)
In early 2014, shortly after Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for the public release of a Senate-approved report critical of the CIA torture program, Hayden claimed on Fox News that the senator was showing "deep emotional feeling" but not objectivity. The comment spurred intense criticism from Feinstein's Democratic colleagues, including Sen. Tom Udall, who called Hayden's charge "baseless" and "sexist." Said Sen. Ron Wyden: "Over the past five years I watched Chairman Feinstein manage this investigation in an extremely thorough and professional manner, and the result is an extraordinarily detailed report based on millions of pages of internal CIA records, including operational cables, internal memos, and interview transcripts." Hayden's comment elicited criticism even from some conservative commentators. Fox's Chris Wallace, who interviewed Hayden, responded incredulously, asking the former CIA chief, "Forgive me because you and I both know Senator Feinstein. I have the highest regard for her. You're saying you think she was emotional in these conclusions?"
Following revelations in Spring 2013 that the National Security Agency was gathering large quantities of "metadata" about the private communications of American citizens, Hayden claimed that the program was necessary to prevent terrorist attacks and defended the administration's purported transparency. He also praised the Barack Obama administration's oversight of the agency. "Frankly, the Obama administration was more transparent about this effort than we were in the Bush administration," Hayden told CNN. "They made this metadata collection activity available to all the members of Congress. Not just all the members of the intelligence committees."
In a separate interview, Hayden praised the Obama administration's approach to surveillance for its "incredible continuity" with the Bush administration. "We've had two very different presidents pretty much doing the same thing with regard to electronic surveillance. That seems to me to suggest that these things do work," he said. In fact, Hayden added, Obama had actually expanded the program. Under a 2008 FISA expansion supported by then-Sen. Obama, Hayden said, "NSA is actually empowered to do more things than I was empowered to do under President Bush's special authorization."
One former NSA analyst, Kirk Wiebe, criticized Hayden and other surveillance advocates for inverting the constitutional standard that suspects are innocent until proven guilty. "Michael Hayden and others have recast the Fourth Amendment from one that is based on probable cause in presenting evidence for subsequent invasion of privacy to one of reasonable suspicion," Wiebe told NPR. "We have not had the public discussion or agreement by the American people to define what that means and what the ramifications of that are in terms of the government's ability to view into our private lives."
Hayden served as a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. He drew attention in January 2012 when, in contrast to Romney's more hawkish bluster on Iran, he cautioned against a U.S. strike on Iran's alleged nuclear weapons facilities. According to The New York Times' "Caucus" blog, Hayden "told analysts and reporters in Washington … that a military strike would provoke Iran to move even more rapidly toward developing a nuclear weapon, and would drive the program underground." After the Times noted that Romney had "said repeatedly that he would consider military action to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Hayden clarified that "he advises Mr. Romney on intelligence matters, not on Iran."
Hayden later joined his voice to a chorus of conservative commentators who questioned the timing of the release of information about the Gen. David Petraeus sex scandal, which broke in November 2012. Hayden called the timing "mysterious," echoing other pundits who were concerned that the scandal could impede the investigation into the Benghazi, Libya attacks.
In addition to his other private-sector work, Hayden has served on the advisory board of Lignet.com (the Langley Intelligence Group Network), an online news service that is part of the conservative Newsmax Media group. Lignet claims to provide "global intelligence and forecasting from former CIA, U.S. intelligence, and national security officers, drawing on an international network of experts and sources." Advisors to Lignet have included several other high-profile right-wing figures, including John Bolton and former Ambassador Otto Reich. Fred Fleitz, a controversial former CIA analyst and State Department official, has served as the managing editor of Lignet.