Former CIA and NSA director Gen. (ret.) Michael Hayden rejected a recent report that Obama administration intelligence officials told Israeli officials to be wary of sharing intelligence with the incoming Trump administration.
In a Monday interview with The Jerusalem Post, Hayden addressed a January 12 report by Yediot Aharonot intelligence reporter Ronen Bergman that on a recent unspecified date, US intelligence officials told Israelis to hold back on sharing intelligence until it is clear that “Trump is not inappropriately connected to Russia and is not being extorted” for “fear the information would reach the Iranians” through Russia.
The former US intelligence official’s tenure in top posts ran from 1999-2009. He has been a prominent Trump critic, despite serving mainly under a Republican president.
He responded to Bergman’s report and similar reports regarding British Intelligence being concerned about sharing with the US, saying, “I don’t share those concerns. I saw the reporting. I don’t think, even looking at the dynamics we are talking about, I don’t think the Americans would do it. It is still America’s CIA.”
Regarding US-Israeli intelligence cooperation in general, he said that Trump’s pick for CIA director, Mike Pompeo, should see to it that one of his first visits is to Israel.
Hayden advised Pompeo to “reinforce the already rich relations between Israeli and American intelligence.”
He explained that, even during the Obama administration, intelligence cooperation has been excellent between the countries, since “American-Israeli views of issues like Iran are based upon a common set of values.”
Honing in on issues of disagreement regarding Iran, he said, “Israel and the US being [geographically situated] where they are, when Israel calculates the meaning of data, they would take a more dramatic assessment than the US about Iranian capacity and timelines.” He added, however, that the US intelligence community is “always enriched by talking” with its Israeli friends.
Regarding the Iran deal, of which Hayden has been a serious critic, he complimented secretary of defense nominee Gen. (ret.) James Mattis, who “suggested... not to rip up the deal” but to carefully police it while “focusing on all of the other things they do in the region,” including with Hezbollah in Lebanon and elsewhere, “and to push very strongly there.”
“It seems to me that the policy of the Obama administration was because of fear about [Iran] walking away from the nuclear deal,” and therefore it did not push back against other Iranian maneuvers, he said.
He recommended lining up allies when the deal expires, since “even if Iran observes it... it is no longer restricted.” The key here, he said, is building an international consensus to extend the deal’s limits on Iran’s nuclear programs past the expiration dates.
On the topic of whether the CIA, Mossad and other intelligence agencies have the sufficient capabilities to detect Iranian cheating on the deal or attempts to covertly develop a nuclear weapon, Hayden explained the difference between technological and human spy capabilities.
While conceding that he would have liked a regime that was tougher on inspection, including “anytime anywhere” inspections, he also accepted the view of the current US intelligence community, which is “pretty confident that they would detect any significant violation of the inspection regime set up.”
Hayden agreed with former IDF Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin in that Iran can get what it wants at the end of the deal and therefore has no current incentive to cheat. “If the Iranians cheat in the first 10 years, it will likely be on the margins,” he said.
But even as he was assured by government officials that US technological intelligence is “quite good,” he admitted that “we were not nearly as good as we should have been,” with regard to human spying, and agreed there is no guarantee this will get better in the future.
Asked whether there could be a brighter future with Iran once its aging Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dies, Hayden speculated that people have the right to hope. “There are pressures within Iranian society which could push a policy which Israel and the US would find more acceptable. But I don’t think the odds are that this will happen even after he passes,” he said.
Hayden complimented Pompeo’s willingness to speak truthfully and defend the CIA at his confirmation hearing, even when doing so went against some views Trump has expressed. He then responded to the hypothetical question of what he would say if the president-elect came to him for advice, despite his strong criticism.
Speaking frankly, he said, “I don’t think that would ever happen. But if he were to ask me, I would say these are very difficult problems. They can’t be explained in 140 characters – quit trying to do it that way. Listen to your intelligence people. They won’t tell you what to do, but they give very important input among many inputs. Whatever you think of them, they think their job is to make yours easier.”
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