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Ex-CIA Director Hayden Weighs In On Republican Surveillance Memo


The Trump administration is in a fight with its own FBI. And the result, according to our next guest, could harm the country's intelligence agencies. This fight is over a classified memo that was put together by Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. According to the few people who have seen it, the memo outlines problems within the FBI, specifically allegations that the Bureau was surveilling the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, when it shouldn't have been.

House Republicans voted this week to make the Nunes memo public. The FBI says it has, quote, "grave concerns about the memo's accuracy," and now it's up to the White House to make the final call. The president himself has said he wants the memo to go public. Now the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says Republicans have made, quote, "material changes to the memo that have not been approved."

For one view on all of this, we have in studio with us former CIA director General Michael Hayden. General Hayden, thanks so much for coming in.

MICHAEL HAYDEN: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: As you see it, what's the problem with making this memo public?

HAYDEN: Oh, my. Where to begin? The FISA process is a very tightly controlled, almost sacred, in a certain sense of the word, process.

MARTIN: This is how you get permission to survey Americans.

HAYDEN: You get the warrant to go up and begin surveillance of a protected person, an American citizen or someone in the United States. And the normal dialogue is between career intelligence or and law enforcement professionals and an Article III court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court. It is the part of intelligence all of which should push politics to the side. It is the part of intelligence that most needs to keep politics out of the process. And here we have now an injection of hyper partisanship into that process, and I just fear the great damage that will be done to institutions including oversight committees in the Congress, including the presidency and of course, obviously, the FBI.

MARTIN: Because this is a debate. Republicans say that the FBI abused the regulations around FISA, didn't follow the rules when it came to getting FISA approval.

HAYDEN: Well, you know, as near as I can tell from the outside looking in, the premise of the memo is that if the Bureau used any information that was in any way connected to the Christopher Steele dossier, the request for the FISA would therefore be invalidated and the FBI would be corrupt. And I would actually suggest to you even if that were proven to be true, that there is some material from A in B, I don't accept the premise on its face. You've got to know an awful lot more.

MARTIN: So the FBI director Christopher Wray has been cautioning the White House against releasing the memo. He's been doing this for days, saying that there are grave concerns, but, it's his agency. So clearly he has an interest in making sure this thing doesn't come out. How seriously do you take his concerns?

HAYDEN: I take it very, very seriously. And, look, the Bureau and the broader Department of Justice has been very vocal and very public, which is very hard for career professionals to do. And they're arguing back, pushing back on three tracks. Number one, that you really can't do this without revealing critical sources and methods. All right? The second is that you are injecting politics into a process that should have no politics attached, and so you're setting up a horrible, horrible precedent here. And then finally, they're simply saying that the memo itself is so cherry-picked, evidence available out there, that it leads to a faulty conclusion.

MARTIN: So what are the possible consequences? Let's say that the memo is not released, even though it looks like indications are that it will be. Let's say that it's not released. What would be the - what are the consequences of just having this debate when it comes to the rift that already exists between the intelligence communities and the Trump administration?

HAYDEN: That's a great question. So where's the logical, safe offramp if - yeah. Right now we have stirred up passions so much on both sides of this issue that, you're right, if the memo is not released, a big fraction of the American population will view that to be further corruption rather than correcting an incorrect course of action. So I'm going to reason by analogy. All right? The Senate Intelligence Committee put an element out there several years ago with regard to my old agency, CIA - renditions, detentions, interrogations. I really objected to what they were saying. I thought it was flawed, faulty and so on. But when it went out, the minority at the time, the Republicans, put out their own report, as did the Agency. So there was a body of data.

MARTIN: Which is not happening in this case.

HAYDEN: Exactly.

MARTIN: Democrats say they've got a memo they'd like to release that gives context. That's not being allowed.

HAYDEN: That's right.

MARTIN: General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, thank you so much for your time this morning.

HAYDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.