Retired Gen. Michael V. Hayden doesn’t suffer fools lightly. Having served his country in the Air Force and as director of the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and National Intelligence, Hayden has seen his share of failed intelligence gathering.
But on the subject of Egypt, Hayden is quite clear: This was not a failure of intelligence gathering.
“Surely the professionals in the Intelligence Community will take lessons from the past six weeks,” he said in an op-ed to CNN last week. “But suggestions of intelligence ‘failure’ miss the mark and betray a lack of understanding of what intelligence can and cannot do.”
Hayden didn’t suggest the Intelligence Community shouldn’t be held to a high standard, but rather he differentiates between secrets and what he calls mysterious events. The road to revolution in Egypt, Hayden said, was more mystery than secret.
Criticism of the Intelligence Community is running rampant. Why weren’t we aware Egypt had reached its boiling point? Why didn’t we see this coming? What will happen next? Hayden agrees they’re all legitimate points, but questions the government’s intelligence-gathering expectations.
“Intelligence will, at its best in this kind of environment, merely be able to set the right- and left- hand boundaries of responsible policy discussions,” he said. “It can be the fact witness, only occasionally able to make the right course of action certain or obvious, but also pointing out what will likely be very ‘low probability shots,’ despite any transient political attractiveness they might have.”
Too many variables exist to give precise answers on Egypt’s future. “Their answers are shades of gray, not black or white,” Hayden said.
Getting the answers wrong, Hayden said, isn’t a failing but a reflection on the difficulties of predicting human behavior in the face of the many variables at play.