By Robert Clark
On the 13th September 2017, the Henry Jackson Society was delighted to host General Michael Hayden at the Houses of Parliament for his talk; ‘US-UK intelligence co-operation in the age of Trump’. General Hayden is a retired four-star General who served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. As head of the country’s premier intelligence agencies, he was on the frontline of global change, the War on Terrorism and the growing cyber challenge.
After a courteous introduction from Henry Smith MP, General Hayden began his talk outlining some of the practicalities of working within the defence community. Explaining that there is a world as it is, and a world as we would like it to be, optimism was an inherent must for his previous job roles. The rest of his speech could be divided into two prominent themes. Firstly, the relationship between President Trump and the US intelligence community, and secondly, the role that the US plays in an unpredictable world, shaped by events which are quick to change and with a security strategy that is being increasingly challenged.
Describing the election of Trump as an ‘above average speed bump’ to the relationship between the President and the intelligence community, General Hayden defined the relationship as having four distinct phases. The first phase, the pre-campaign and campaign itself, he described Trump as having an ignorance of the intelligence community; a man with ‘unnatural confidence in a preordained conviction of the world’, a man whom would not necessarily take seriously the matters which the intelligence community would like him to. The second phase was one of hostility; the low point being the intense media speculation concerning whether or not Trump Towers was bugged. The third phase is one which we are currently witnessing; an acceptance that the President knows that he needs these agencies to turn his tactical decision making into a strategic agenda. The fourth phase is one which General Hayden believes will start with the publishing of the report into the Russian hacking allegations of the 2016 US Presidential election, and will result in a reset of relations for all concerned.
Regarding the role the US plays in an unpredictable world, General Hayden discussed how Trump’s presidency may affect this. When asked about North Korea, and Trump’s use of escalating rhetoric, General Hayden affirmed that he believed a nuclear North Korea was not only a rational choice for Pyongyang to aspire to, but was perhaps the best option for maintaining international order. Having a controlled, contained, limited nuclear North Korea would be what he described as an ‘acceptable risk’. More can still be done diplomatically, however, with pressure being applied to the Chinese the main example. Quite whether Trump will decide on this option remains to be seen, though General Hayden expressed again that optimistic necessity, placing his trust in the increasingly productive relationship between the President and Mike Pompeo, the Director of the CIA. During his daily 45 minute briefings with the President, a constructive partnership is being formed.
General Hayden went on to describe the relationship within the Five Eyes community as strong as ever, despite potential concerns over recent intelligence leaks between members. Despite this reassurance, and the trust he places in Mike Pompeo, General Hayden did however offer a stark prediction for America’s role under the Trump presidency. That if Trump continues to be isolationist, and not take seriously the matters brought to him by his intelligence chiefs, then America will begin to lose its influence globally. That we live in a world ‘never more complicated, never more immediate’, this is not the time for poor relations between a President and his intelligence community which exists solely to serve him. The structures that created an international security order since the end of the Second World War are losing relevance and, according to General Hayden, the longer it takes for US strategy to be implemented, the worse it’ll be. A slightly pessimistic prediction from the eternal optimist, but one which the President would do well to heed.