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For General Michael Hayden, playing to the edge means playing so close to the line that you get chalk dust on your cleats. Otherwise, by playing back, you may protect yourself, but you will be less successful in protecting America.
"Play to the edge" was Hayden's guiding principle when he ran the National Security Agency, and it remained so when he ran the CIA. In his view, many shortsighted and uninformed people are quick to criticize, and this book will give them much to chew on but little easy comfort; it is an unapologetic insider's look told from the perspective of the people who faced awesome responsibilities head on, in the moment.
How did American intelligence respond to terrorism, a major war, and the most sweeping technological revolution in the last 500 years? What was the NSA before 9/11, and how did it change in its aftermath? Why did the NSA begin the controversial terrorist surveillance program that included the acquisition of domestic phone records? What else was set in motion during this period that formed the backdrop for the infamous Snowden revelations in 2013?
As director of the CIA in the last three years of the Bush administration, Hayden had to deal with the rendition, detention, and interrogation program as bequeathed to him by his predecessors. He also had to ramp up the agency to support its role in the targeted killing program that began to dramatically increase in July 2008. This was a time of great crisis at the CIA, and some agency veterans have credited Hayden with actually saving the agency. He himself won't go that far, but he freely acknowledges that the CIA helped turn the American security establishment into the most effective killing machine in the history of armed conflict.
For 10 years, then, General Michael Hayden was a participant in some of the most telling events in the annals of American national security. General Hayden's goals in writing this book are simple and unwavering: no apologies. No excuses. Just what happened. And why. As he writes, "There is a story here that deserves to be told, without varnish and without spin. My view is my view, and others will certainly have different perspectives, but this view deserves to be told to create as complete a history as possible of these turbulent times. I bear no grudges, or at least not many, but I do want this to be a straightforward and readable history for that slice of the American population who depend on and appreciate intelligence but who do not have the time to master its many obscure characteristics."
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By ES on 03-13-16
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This book is an excellent addition to the books by Gates and Panetta. It undistorts most of the record created by headlines, politicians and pundits which we receive every day and is rarely corrected. Bush is characterized as a hands-on and knowledgeable user of intelligence data. Obama is characterized as someone who is motivated more by politics than by the proper operations of the intelligence agencies. Holder and Feinstein are shown to be headline grabbers with little concern for accuracy or agency effectiveness. The Iranian nuclear deal is described as probably the best that could have been done with regard to producing weapons grade material but ignores completely the production of missiles or nuclear devices while freeing up assets to be used in such matters.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
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By Styff on 11-22-17
Gen Hayden's honest and intelligent autobiography
Most authors are great writers but terrible narrators. Gen Hayden is the exception to that rule. Not only is the book's material interesting and well written but his speaking cadence and inflections are great to listen to.
If you have any interest in the US response to 9/11 then this book is written straight from the horse's mouth. It clears up a lot of lies and misinformation out there about what decisions were made, when they were made, who made them and ultimately what drove them to choose the path that they did.
The author admits his mistakes, rightfully (and humbly) points out their successes and appears fairly good at self reflection.
I really enjoyed this book and if Gen Hayden ever runs out of money he could always consider a career as an audiobook narrator... I just love the way he says the word 'decade'.