Thursday, 15 January, 2009

Departing CIA Spy Chief Regrets


January 15, 2009, 5:35 pm
By Mark Mazzetti
Michael V. HaydenMichael V. Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, gave an exit interview to reporters at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va.

Michael V. Hayden, the departing director of the Central Intelligence Agency, struck a defiant and occasionally combative tone on Thursday as he vigorously defended the C.I.A.’s network of secret prisons and its aggressive interrogation methods.

Giving no ground to critics who argue that the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program used torture and produced little information about the workings of Al Qaeda, Mr. Hayden credited the C.I.A. with striking repeated blows on the terror network, and said that any effort to investigate the past would breed risk aversion in the ranks of the clandestine service.

He dismissed congressional efforts to force C.I.A. interrogators to abide by the military’s interrogation rules, saying it was a “real shot in the dark” to expect that a slate of non-coercive interrogation methods would be effective against Al Qaeda’s senior leaders.

The C.I.A. years ago abandoned some of its most aggressive techniques, including “waterboarding.” But Mr. Hayden still defended the agency’s response in the weeks and months after the Sept. 11 attacks, and the now controversial decisions by senior C.I.A. officials “for whom doing nothing is an immoral choice,” he said.

“The agency did none of this out of enthusiasm. It did it out of duty and it did it with the best legal advice it had,” he said.

Mr. Hayden, who retired from the Air Force last summer after nearly 39-year military career, has drawn fire for his outspoken defense both of the C.I.A. program and the Bush Administration’s domestic eavesdropping program, which he ran as head of the National Security Agency.

He is being replaced at the C.I.A. by Leon E. Panetta, a former congressman and White House chief of staff.

With days remaining in his tenure at the C.I.A, he said he would be proud to be remembered for advocating a muscular strategy against Al Qaeda.

“When the history of this agency during this period is written, the last thing you’re going to say that it was risk averse. Trust me,” he said.

Since last summer, he said, American and Pakistani operatives have taken aim at Al Qaeda’s hub in the Pakistani mountains. There have been dozens of airstrikes by C.I.A. operated Predator drones in recent months, although Mr. Hayden would not acknowledge the existence of the attacks.

Mr. Hayden said that the attrition rates at the C.I.A. are at an historic low, that tens of thousands of applicants submit resumes each year, and that the agency would soon reach the goals for new analysts and clandestine officers set by President Bush in 2004. But he said that the C.I.A. would continue to bring in a steady flow of new recruits, even if it meant early retirement for some agency veterans.

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