Michael Hayden's Unhealthy 'Emotional' State

The former CIA and NSA chief is off-base with his comment about the Senate intelligence chairwoman.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. speaks before attending a closed-door meeting Thursday, April 3, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is not a scared little girl.

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Hell hath no fury like a male-dominated agency scorned.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chair of the Senate intelligence committee, has been a reliable defender of U.S. intelligence agencies, arguing that certain tactics are needed to thwart terrorism. But she is not myopic or uncritical; Feinstein has consistently stuck to a set of standards about both intelligence-gathering practices and transparency. And she recently has let the CIA know it has let her down.

In a devastating and carefully-crafted speech on the Senate floor, Feinstein accused the CIA of hacking into the computers of her Senate committee staff as they pursued (without much cooperation from the agency) an investigation into the use of torture against terrorism suspects. Feinstein’s anger over the alleged CIA obstruction is separate from the concerns the committee has about the interrogation techniques themselves – whether they were lawful or even useful. The intelligence committee voted last week to declassify part of the panel’s 6,000-plus page report. Declassifying the report, Feinstein said, would “ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.”

[Read blogger Peter Fenn on why it's time the CIA came clean on torture and spying.]

That sounds reasonable, especially coming from a veteran senator who has been privy to hordes of classified secrets about the activities of intelligence agencies overseas. But to Michael Hayden, the former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency, Feinstein is just too “emotional” to give a fair assessment. Said Hayden on “Fox News Sunday”:

That sentence – that motivation for the report – may show deep, emotional feeling on the part of the senator, but I don't think it leads you to an objective report.

Hayden’s comments are misdirected – Feinstein was talking about why she wanted to declassify part of the report, not why the committee did the investigatory report to begin with. And it takes a certain amount of hubris to imagine that the activities of an executive branch agency – especially one that water-boarded subjects – should not be subject to oversight by the legislative branch. But Hayden could not have been more dismissive and insidiously sexist than in using the term “emotional” to describe Feinstein.

[Read more from Susan Milligan on how Chris Christie's 'Bridgegate' report unfairly attacked his former aide.]

In other words: These little girls, they just can’t understand what the tough men need to do to keep the world safe for democracy. They just cry and get all scared when people engage in physical intimidation, and so can’t be trusted to evaluate the behavior we important and serious men conduct to get the job done. He practically disqualified Feinstein as someone qualified to head the committee she chairs, with the “emotional” remark. 

And what of that charge, anyway? Feinstein, after all, was president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978 when Mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk were gunned down in their offices. Feinstein heard the shots, and went to Milk’s office, where she stuck her finger in the bullet hole in her colleague’s body, trying, in vain, to save his life. That doesn’t sound like a scared little girl.

And let’s consider what we call “emotional.” What sort of emotional makeup does it require to order, sanction or conduct torture of detainees? Are male emotions OK, while women’s emotions mean they are weak? Perhaps if the overwhelmingly male CIA could control its collective emotions, there would have been no need for a intelligence committee report.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the NSA.]

Let’s remember, too, that one of the most consistent voices against the use of torture has been Arizona Republican senator and war hero John McCain, who points out that torture just isn’t reliable. People will say anything to make the pain stop, McCain says, so the torture just isn’t even useful, even of one thinks it is moral.

The man who led two intelligence agencies now under fire for their surveillance and interrogatory activities doesn’t like the “emotional” response from a woman, Dianne Feinstein. He’s not likely to change his perspective. One thing has changed in recent years, however. It’s a woman who heads the powerful committee. And the intelligence agencies will have to answer to her. Let’s see if they can keep their institutional emotions in check.