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General Michael Hayden On Counterterrorism Techniques

William B. Plowman
AP Images

How far should a country go “in the name of national security?” For retired Air Force 4 Star General Michael Hayden, it’s all about the circumstance.

In his new book “Playing to the Edge,” Hayden addresses both the good and bad accounts of enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation.

Hayden is the former director of both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and spoke earlier this week at Duquesne University.

The book gives an unapologetic insider's look at those facing circumstances involving national security, who had to respond within the moment. 

General Hayden explains the title of his book as his guiding principle in his roles with both the NSA and CIA.  Espionage is an edgy game in any circumstance, Hayden says.  However, the American political process establishes limits. When the situation demands, it is his job to get as close to the “edge” as possible, knowing potential negative ramifications.

“If I played back from the edge to avoid that, I’d be protecting myself or my agency. I wouldn’t be protecting America,” Hayden says.

His book reflects his approval of enhanced interrogation, as long as those in power choose the most moral course of action given the circumstances to do the best they can to defend national security.

“We did this [enhanced interrogation] for intelligence value.  We did it to save lives, and we did it with reluctance and out of duty, not with enthusiasm,” Hayden explains.

In regard to recent events in Brussels and other parts of Europe, Hayden says that while there is always the threat of terrorism domestically, the United States is better off than its European allies, mostly because of demographics and location.

“We have a right to defend ourselves,” Hayden says. He adds that American intelligence is actually quite effective and that it’s “no accident” that no major attacks have happened on U.S. soil.

Its safety, too, can be attributed to the generally welcome spirit of the American people, regardless of recent comments about closing borders to immigrants.

“We’re safer because of who we are as people.”

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