This is one in a series of Spy's Guide book reviews. For more, see spysguide.com/blog
Michael V. Hayden, Playing To The Edge
As boss of the National Security Agency during 9/11 and later boss of the CIA, Hayden managed two intelligence bureaucracies.
At NSA, Hayden’s work was expected to be in the first two steps of the DADA sequence:
Hayden’s job at NSA was to collect as much data as possible, maybe more than anyone else in the world. Then, the job was to analyze it. To translate and filter it down and package it into something decision-makers can use. Which means into something that fits inside a decision-maker’s head.
That’s a hard job. It requires knowing the questions decision-makers have. Knowing what decision-makers need. Knowing what they can understand. And filtering that enormous amount of data into something that fits inside a decision-maker’s head.
That’s why Hayden talks a lot about politics and leaders. He talks about what they knew and wanted to know. He talks a lot about answering their questions.
But he takes one part of the DADA process a step further.
Hayden knows that the DADA process isn’t static. It’s a dynamic loop. After you get to action, you collect data on what just happened. Then you go through the process again.
Sometimes, you take action in order to generate more data.
In the early days of the Iraq War, NSA wasn’t collecting the right data, so Hayden asked CENTCOM to target Iraq’s fiber optic cables. “The idea was to herd signals into the air, where we could intercept them” (p. 60).
When he became boss of the CIA, Hayden took over the hunt for Bin Laden, civil war in Iraq and the detainees at Guantanamo. A lot of the book is Hayden maneuvering through the politics and quoting himself about those issues. He says, “There are days when a director of the CIA is inclined to think that he is running a large public affairs, legal, and legislative liaison enterprise attached to small operational and analytic elements. Of course, it is (or should be) the other way around” (p. 232).
Of course, the “public affairs, legal and legislative liaison enterprise” are necessary because that’s how you talk to the end user. It’s through those tools that you reach decision-makers.
When you’re boss of an intelligence agency, your primary job is to manage and improve the DADA process. You’re making sure data collectors are collecting the right data. You’re making sure analysts are analyzing the right things. You’re making sure your agency “products” answer the questions decision-makers have.
But you don’t stop there. You also look forward to the actions that follow decisions. And you’re looking forward to the results of those actions. Sometimes, others take those actions. Sometimes, you do.
It looks like this (graphic from A Spy’s Guide To Thinking):
When you’re boss of an intelligence agency, your job is to make sure the whole DADA process works. You can’t silo data collection. You can’t separate analysis. You can’t keep decision-makers and the people taking action away from the others. You do as much sharing and cross-pollination as possible. You make sure everyone appreciates the other parts. You make sure there’s generosity between the parts.
When you’re boss of an intelligence agency, your job is to make sure the whole thing works.
But not every boss sees it that way. Some bosses want to right past wrongs. Some bosses want to make one part ascendant over the others. Some bosses care more about the parts than the whole.
Michael Hayden made sure the whole thing worked.
To see how he did it, read Playing To The Edge.
For Hayden, the big change in moving from NSA to the CIA was the focus on taking action. Not just collecting data. Not just analyzing it. Not just informing decision-makers. The CIA was expected to do all that plus take action under certain circumstances.
For “action,” Hayden worked closely with former case officer Steve Kappes, his Deputy Director. Hayden says, “Steve Kappes ran something called the CARG, the Covert Action Review Group, to keep us on the right side of issues. Monthly he deconstructed proposed and ongoing operations with a skeptic’s, even a cynic’s, eye. Tough sessions. No autopilots” (p. 283). For an inkling of what was happening behind the scenes, go to the index and read the pages under “Steve Kappes.”
For more on how action fits with intelligence, see A Spy’s Guide To Thinking.