John Hillen’s review of Gen. Michael V. Hayden’s memoir, Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror, was published in the April 11 issue of National Review.
The book comes seven years after the retired U.S. Air Force four-star general left the position of CIA director. His writing style, Hillen says, is similar to the way he speaks, in that the book comes across as down-to-earth, simple and direct. He explains some of the post-9/11 complex, intelligence world issues in a clear and direct way, perhaps, in part, of his upbringing in a lower-middle-class Catholic family which has kept him grounded.
The theme that dominates the book, Hillen says, the balance of intelligence-gathering and civil liberties, and how new programs and new technologies must be considered alongside the Constitution and Fourth Amendment. Hayden also spends at length discussing his relationship with Congress and the press, as he worked with each to improve the understanding and public opinion of intelligence-gathering efforts, intelligence programs and strategic circumstances: “What might be admirable for a court system is unconscionable for an intelligence agency.”
“Hayden is not entirely optimistic that an open, democratic society with a yearning for transparency and instant gratification can sustain difficult, risky and controversial intelligence programs that ‘play to the edge,'” Hillen writes. What the intelligence community needs, Hayden says, is “to welcome a more ‘cogent’ and ‘complete’ description of the terrorist threat and the countermeasures to it.”