As one of President George W. Bush's top intelligence officials, Gen. Michael Hayden conceived the controversial warrantless-wiretapping program while head of the National Security Agency and then, in 2006, was sent to clean house at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hayden spoke recently to NEWSWEEK's Jerry Guo about his reign as America's top spy and its security challenges today. -Excerpts:
A recent internal report by the International Atomic Energy Agency claims Iran's nuclear capabilities are further along than the U.S. estimates. Is the CIA being careful after Iraq?
You're looking at the same data and drawing different conclusions. When the Israelis talked about this, they took each question and tended to push them in the direction of a more imminent threat. So you end up with a difference in timeline. But there's far more agreement than disagreement.
Is Iran's secret Qum facility part of a hidden nuclear archipelago?
We have good knowledge about their facilities. But I would never make the claim we know everything.
Can we trust our Pakistani partners?
To work with a foreign service requires a degree of trust. Traditionally, Pakistan viewed Al Qaeda in the tribal areas as far more our problem than theirs. With the assassination of Benazir Bhutto [in December 2007] came the growing realization that this was as much their problem as ours.
What's the way forward in AfPak?
The West, not just the U.S., has a moral obligation to the people of Afghanistan. If we were to lighten our footprint to where they aren't protected, they could be subjected to terrible reprisals. The U.S. debate also affects how the Pakistanis deal with this problem. To the degree that they are not confident in our staying power, they develop their own hedging strategies.
Does the CIA have any idea what's going on inside the North Korean regime?
North Korea is far more closed than even the Soviet Union was at the height of the Cold War. It's an enduring hard target. But we have made improvements—that's all I can say.
You recently asked President Obama to shut down the probe into the CIA's interrogation techniques under the Bush administration. But what about individual agents who may have crossed the line?
The CIA investigated all this. It wasn't like the agency said, "Please don't hurt us." The Eastern District of Virginia decided to prosecute [CIA contractor] David Passaro. They declined prosecution in all other cases. End of story. Why are you reopening an investigation that has already been decided by career prosecutors in an apolitical manner? [Attorney General Eric Holder] has no new information, of that I'm certain. It's unfair to drag the people at the agency back through all this.
The 2004 CIA inspector-general's report that was released this August cited several legally dubious incidents, such as mock executions, that would violate federal torture statutes prohibiting the threat of imminent death.
It's not about cover-ups. It's [that] we already did this. This stuff is new to you, but it's not new to the Department of Justice. They've had it for four years. This has been resolved by career -prosecutors.
Can you cite an example where "enhanced" interrogation techniques averted an impending attack?
If we've been successful, it's because of our intelligence. In the first several years, the lion's share came from these detainees. On fewer than a third did we use enhanced techniques. In most instances, we just had to talk to these people. We waterboarded three. I'm not trying to argue for any of these techniques, but we learned things that kept America safe.