The former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA unsurprisingly defends espionage as vital to American safety in a violent world, but he spices the conversation with sharp portraits of politicians, military commanders, rulers of other nations, and sometimes himself.
Hayden's combination of memoir and long-form debate tract rests on the foundation of his oft-stated belief in personal privacy for American citizens and why government spying in the name of national security must sometimes trump that privacy. Occasionally, the author, a retired Air Force four-star general, is a shrill debater, but more often his argument is nuanced and educational. Given the magnitude of the tragedy of 9/11, the role of espionage to combat terrorist attacks dominates the narrative. But espionage in a broader context enters the story as well, especially in relation to Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Pakistan, and other global hot spots. Hayden's characterizations of American politicians, including presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and vice presidents Dick Cheney and Joe Biden, are grounded not so much in partisanship as in how those men treated the NSA and the CIA as gatherers of intelligence. Without subtlety, the author excoriates dozens of journalists, senators, House of Representatives members, and international leaders of nations hostile to the United States; nobody viewed by Hayden as an enemy of responsibly conducted espionage is spared his barbs. Naturally, such high-level gossip makes for intriguing reading. When the chapters turn to policy and away from score-settling, Hayden provides interesting discussions of the lethal use of drones against alleged terrorists, and he relates the vital and all-too-rare nature of foreign language skills among American spies. He humanizes the daily work of spies while illuminating the impacts on their family members, and he makes distinctions about various interrogation methods, including waterboarding.
For readers of all political and ideological persuasions with even slightly open minds, Hayden is a worthy guide to a secretive realm.