Playing to the Edge

  • by Michael V. Hayden
  • Narrated by Michael V. Hayden
  • 16 hrs and 48 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

An unprecedented high-level master narrative of America's intelligence wars from the only person ever to helm both the CIA and NSA, at a time of heinous new threats and wrenching change.
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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Fascinating - but distractingly disorganized.

Whether or not you agree with the missions of the organizations General Michael V. Hayden (USAF, Ret.) lead, what the CIA and the NSA have done and continue to do is complex, crucial, occasionally enraging, and usually interesting. "Playing to the Edge" (2016) is an eagle's eye view of the internal workings of American foreign intelligence from the Sigint (Signals Intelligence) mission of the National Security Agency to the Humint (Human Intelligence) mission of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Hayden bookends this book with two major intelligence events. The first is what's been called "the greatest intelligence failure in modern history," the wrong assessment that Sadam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, leading to the first Gulf War. Hayden explains what lead to the failure, accepts full responsibility; doesn't make excuses; and moves on with his book. Hayden, in fact, takes more personal responsibility than The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction gave him in its 2005 Commission Report. Bringing up the worst mistake of his life to start with - one that brought the country he swore to defend and protect to a war that took thousands of lives - was blunt and effective.

The last chapter in "Playing to the Edge" is primarily about Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked the existence of various government monitoring and listening programs. Snowden's leaks have been called the biggest leak of classified information, ever. Hayden goes to great pains to point out -correctly - that the intelligence gathering activities Snowden disclosed were legal at the time. Nonetheless, Hayden justifies and excuses the legality of executive orders on intelligence gathering and programs authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. For some reason, Hayden fell on his sword and took responsibility for those programs, but his sacrifice is misplaced. He inherited many of the problematic policies and programs.

That leaves the 20 chapters in between. To paraphrase a line from one of my favorite movies, "Michael V. Hayden is in more dire need of an editor than any nonfiction writer alive." It's as if he had a brief case full of actual, on-paper intelligence briefs on various really interesting topics, dropped them on the ground, and then put them into the book in whatever order they landed. Hayden jumps from management problems caused by Porter Goss to the technical issues surrounding mobile phone data collection to "enhanced interrogation techniques", Afghani tribes, drones . . . He kept referencing to other chapters, which really doesn't work in an Audible book. What's a commuting listener to do? Pull over and stop in the breakdown lane and fast forward or review to the oft-referenced Chapter 5? As fascinating as the book was, the disorganization drove me to distraction.

Hayden narrated the book himself, and he's mostly okay - but there were some editing issues that threw the timing off as a listen.

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- Cynthia "Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always.""

A close look at what keep America Safe.

It was enlightening.
I think everyone who cares about a free society should listen to this memoir.
The information is provided, the listener has to employ critical thinking.
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- Tomez Desilva Ph.d "ForensicPhD"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 02-23-2016
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio