ALLIANCE, Ohio – General Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence agency and the National Security Agency, delivered his lecture titled “Hot Spots at Home and Around the World” last night at Mount Union’s annual Schooler Lecture.
Before the lecture, Hayden hosted a private Q&A session moderated by Dr. Francis Schortgen, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science and International Studies. Interested Mount Union students had the opportunity to ask Hayden specific questions related to their studies as well as current political issues. Following the session was a dinner for students and guests.
Hayden described the purpose of his lecture as to “suggest a framework, a lens, to observe the tsunami of events” that we observe in daily life. With his wealth of experience as a retired four-star Air Force general and intelligence director, he provided insight into the international political climate of today.
Hayden began by saying that 2017 was a year of disruption. He continued by saying, “2018 will be a year of consequences.
“I have probably seen it more dangerous,” he added. “I have definitely not seen it more complicated. You bet I have never seen it more immediate.”
Hayden emphasized the interconnected nature of modern American society, focusing on how quickly information spreads, which causes the effects of events to spread more widely.
“When something happens over there, something goes bump in eastern Ohio,” said Hayden.
Hayden described what he saw as the five biggest threats to America in order by which has the shortest fuse: North Korea, Iran, international terrorism, Russia and China. Although China appeared last on the list, Hayden stressed it as the most important.
“If we get China right, we’ll be okay. If we get it wrong, the others won’t even matter,” said Hayden.
Still, Hayden explained significant concerns with the others. He anticipates more problems with removing North Korea’s nuclear weapons than with allowing them to remain as they are. He sees the nuclear deal with Iran only working for the short-term, but if the U.S. chooses to walk away from the deal, America also walks away from a number of other powerful countries. Also, according to his analysis, Russia attacks weak points to create disruptive divides within the American population.
“Russia is pouring fuel on the fire, making us doubt our democratic processes and actually interfering with our 2016 election,” explained Hayden.
While international terrorism remains a threat, Hayden does not foresee large-scale terror similar to that of 9/11. The last international terrorist attack occurred in October of 2017 on a bike path in Manhattan, and while eight lives were tragically lost, the incident was far less catastrophic than that of 2001.
“Intel guys never say never, but I think that’s the limit of what will happen,” said Hayden. “Unfortunately, we have our limits, too. There’s not much we can do to stop an attack like that.”
Hayden credits the current decline in international terrorism to both former President Obama and current President Trump’s administrations as Trump has accelerated Obama’s existing anti-terrorism efforts. Additionally, the administration has the opportunity to implement the final phase of a four-step process that has previously been successful against terrorism.
Hayden lists the four phases as deploying troops, shaping the battlefield, fighting and finally stabilizing the region after the fighting has ended, which leads to nation-building and ultimately a lower chance of threat.
“No one who does this for a living thinks we can leave after fighting,” Hayden said. “If we only do steps one, two and three, they repeat again.”
Despite his retirement, Hayden remains informed and involved in current international affairs. His upcoming book The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies discusses current threats to U.S. intelligence, including those he mentioned during the lecture. When a friend recently teased him about continuing to stay involved after his retirement, Hayden just shrugged.
“We have to,” he said.