Gen. Michael Hayden: Russia launches cyberattacks to "mess with our heads"

One of the most critical issues facing the 2016 presidential nominees is national security. In this installment of “Issues That Matter,” retired four-star Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden – who served as director of the CIA and the NSA, as well as principal deputy director of national intelligence – takes a look at the threats the next president will have to confront.


The Obama administration is “confident” that Russia is trying to interfere in the presidential election – and so is the former CIA and NSA director, Gen. Michael Hayden. Though Russia has denied the allegations, Hayden says he thinks Russia is trying to “erode” Americans’ larger confidence in the political process.

“The Clinton campaign has said they’re doing it to pick a winner. I don’t think that’s true,” Hayden, a retired four-star Air Force general, told “CBS This Morning” Friday. “It’s to mess with our heads. It’s to do to us what he thinks we do to him and his political processes. It’s a way of his pushing back against what he views to be American pressure.”

Hayden believes Russian criminal gangs, directed by the Russian state, are behind the hack of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails. Clinton has vowed as president to fight cyberattacks like any other assault on the country, with “serious political, economic and military responses.” Hayden agrees, but thinks cyberattacks should be examined in a larger context.  

“Don’t put this in the ‘cyber problem’ box. Put this in the ‘Russian problem’ box,” Hayden said. “Put this in that box with all these other indicators – actual Russian behavior to which we should respond – in my view, respond more robustly than we’ve responded.”

Hayden said the Obama administration’s response to the Russia’s intervention in Syria has been “too light,” agreeing with criticism that the U.S. has created a “vacuum” in the war-torn country. Hayden suggested different ways U.S. actions could be “more robust” to create a “tectonic shift in a Russian pressure point.”

“Can we be more robust in Ukraine, with regard to what we may or may not provide them? Can we be more robust in Syria, with how much space we give the Russians to operate?” Hayden said. “Getting out of the narrow box, why don’t we make it American policy to wean the Europeans off of Russian gas? Why don’t we simply say, ‘We got it, we’re going to exploit it, and we’re going to ship it.’”

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have found little common ground on issues in the presidential campaign, but both have suggested setting up some form of safe zones in Syria. Hayden agreed, but said it would be complicated to do – especially given Russia’s presence there – and suggested creating “relatively thin zones” along the Turkish and Jordanian borders.

“And here’s where it really gets tough, all right? And at this point you actually got to say to all the players,’We’re serious. This is a safe zone.’ Now we got responsibilities. We can’t let one side or the other operate out of there and conduct attacks. That’s our policing function, it’s not yours, you can’t go there,’” Hayden said.

Hayden – who has yet to endorse either candidate but has said Trump was not qualified to be president – said he agreed with Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence’s statement that the U.S. should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime, if Russia continues to be involved in airstrikes.


“I thought (that) was far more robust. Unfortunately, he was disowned by his own presidential candidate,” Hayden said, referring to Trump’s claim in the second presidential debate that he disagreed with his running mate on the Syrian matter.

“But I do think on a raw, humanitarian basis, we’ve got to do more,” Hayden said.

Hayden also addressed other critical foreign policy issues confronting the next president, ranking them on a timeline according to “how bad is it, how much time do you have?” Hayden set terrorism – cyberattacks included – first on the timeline, then, three to five years from now, threats from “ambitious, fragile and nuclear” states including North Korea, Pakistan, Iran and Russia.

“And then… when I run the timeline out here about ten years, I got this bubble way up here that’s really important and that’s the Sino-American relationship,” Hayden said. “Not saying China’s an enemy, but if we don’t get that right, over the long term, that’s pass-fail.”