"If I could have done that against someone else, against China, while I was director, I'd-a done it in a heartbeat. No shame in that."
Martin asked, "Here it comes -- did you?"
Hayden laughed. "No. You'd have heard about it if we had. But we would have if we'd had the chance"
"Once you get inside a network, sounds like it's like once you get inside a house, you can do anything you want."
"Yep, that's right. Once you're in a network you can do a whole bunch of things to that network. It's just that NSA doesn't have the authority to do that."
NSA does not have the authority, for instance, to crash the computers which run another country's air defense system. That's an act of war -- the job of the U.S. military.
So in 2005 NSA Director Hayden-- who also happened to be an Air Force general -- became the first head of what is today called Cyber Command.
"Somebody's been working on these cyber weapons," said Martin. "Was that you?"
"Yeah. We were developing ways to do things, and so we created this stable of weapons."
"'Stable of weapons.' You're out there stockpiling cyber weapons. Can you tell me about any computer network attacks that you pulled off?"
"No. Because this is so hideously over-classified it's hard for us to have an adult discussion about what it is we are doing, or are not, doing," Hayden said.
"So let's take down this call of secrecy. How powerful are cyber weapons?"
"The problem with cyber weapons is not whether or not they're powerful, David. The problem with cyber weapons for a country like ours is the ability to control them."
The now-famous 2010 Stuxnet attack mounted by the U.S. and Israel against computers which controlled Iran's unranium enrichment centrifuges spread to networks in more than 100 countries -- including the U.S.
"What is keeping other countries from taking down our networks?" Martin asked.
"Number one, it's not as easy as it looks. Number two, you have to think why would they want to do, we are a very powerful nation. It may not be in their interests to make us really, really angry at them."
"And what about a terrorist group?"
"Yeah, isn't it interesting? I know of no terrorist group using a cyber weapon to affect physical destruction," he replied, "and here I'm talking about the al Qaedas and ISISes of the world. And then the follow-on question I usually get is, why? And the follow-on answer I usually give is, I have no idea, but they haven't done it yet."
Because of capability? "These guys are cyber smart," said Hayden. "They use the web for everything else. You would think within their legions that they would have the talent to do this. I just can't explain why it hasn't happened."
Hayden is out of government now, working as a consultant to corporations doing business in the age of terror and cyber attacks. The only time he's in danger of stepping out of bounds is on the practice field. You might say he's backed away from the edge.
For more info:
- "Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror" by Michael V. Hayden (Penguin); Also available in eBook, Digital Audio Download and Digital Audio CD formats