Meet the Press Netcast   |  October 24, 2014

Gen. Michael Hayden, political roundtable

March 30: General Michael Hayden will join us in his first Sunday morning interview as CIA Director to talk about Iraq, Iran, U.S. Intelligence & the war against terror. Then, a political roundtable on Decision 2008 with Peter Beinart and David Brooks.

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MEET THE PRESS NBC NEWS (202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday, the CIA , the Central Intelligence Agency : its mission, its successes, its failures and its future challenges with Iraq , Iran , al-Qaeda and more. With us, a Sunday morning exclusive interview, the director of the CIA , General Michael Hayden , only on MEET THE PRESS .

Then, should Hillary Clinton consider ending her campaign ? Yes, says New York Times columnist David Brooks . No, says The New Republic 's editor at large, Peter Beinart . Brooks and Beinart square off on the race for the White House 2008 .

But first, the CIA And here to talk about its role in a very difficult and complicated world is General Michael Hayden , his first Sunday morning interview as director of the CIA

General , welcome.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Morning, Tim .

MR. RUSSERT: This was the scene yesterday in Basra , Iraq . Shiite militiamen on the streets, holding their weapons. What is going on in Basra , Iraq ?

GEN. HAYDEN: What we have is, is, is a very decisive act on the part of Prime Minister Maliki to get personally involved and commit his forces and his government to extending Iraqi government control over parts of Iraqi that, frankly, have not been under much central government control now for several years. It's a very decisive moment; it's a very challenging thing. I guess one would say that success is not guaranteed. But when I, when I talked to my analysts on Friday afternoon, they said that, based on this effort, they expect the situation in Iraq to be better at the end of what's going on now than it was at the beginning.

MR. RUSSERT: There are reports that the prime minister miscalculated the seriousness and the difficulty of rooting out these Shiite militiamen who had taken control of Basra .

GEN. HAYDEN: It, it, it's a very difficult challenge that he's strapped on. He's strapped it on largely with his own forces, the I.S.F. , the Iraqi, Iraqi Security Forces . It has proven to be very, very difficult. But I think the, the real telling moment, the real crossover point in all this is the political decision to take action. I mean, I mean, a lot of people in this country have criticized the Iraqis for, for not stepping up, for, for not taking advantage of the breathing space that's been created by, frankly, coalition military activity. Here's a case of an Iraqi leader stepping up.

MR. RUSSERT: This is an article, Friday's paper: "[Iraqi] Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ... decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies, according to administration officials. With little U.S. presence in the south, and British forces in Basra confined to an air base outside the city, one administration official said that, `we can't quite decipher' what is going on. It's a question, he said, of `who's got the best conspiracy' theory about why Maliki decided to act now." The United States was not informed by the Iraqis that we -- he was going to do this?

GEN. HAYDEN: I, I don't know what on -- what went on on the ground in Baghdad prior to the operation. I do know that this was a decision of the Iraqi government by the prime minister and personally by the prime minister, and that he's relying on Iraqi forces, by and large, to take this action.

MR. RUSSERT: Were you aware of it?

GEN. HAYDEN: I was -- in terms of being prebriefed or, or having, you know, the, the normal planning process in which you build up to this days or weeks ahead of time, no. No, I was not.

MR. RUSSERT: You didn't know it was going to happen?

GEN. HAYDEN: No more so than Dave Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker did.

MR. RUSSERT: About 70 percent of the city of Basra controlled by Shiite militia. Is the goal to have that entire city controlled by the Iraqi government ?

GEN. HAYDEN: Of course it is. But, but this is going to have to happen in stages. And, and you're right, about 70 percent of the city controlled by militia, armed gangs, criminal elements. It's, it's, it's a real stew down there, Tim , in terms of the different factions. And they were in a bit of an equilibrium between and among these armed factions over the past several months, and violence had been reduced. But I don't think anyone could think that that equilibrium was an acceptable long-term solution.

MR. RUSSERT: The prime minister said that the elements that were controlling Basra were "worse than al-Qaeda ." Do you agree with that?

GEN. HAYDEN: Their activity has mirrored some of the atrocities of al-Qaeda . I don't know that I'd try to sit back here and put a moral calculus on, on either of them. But I do know this, all right? They were beyond the writ of the Iraqi government , they were exercising the attributes of sovereignty, I mean, exclusive use of violence, for example. It should be the province of the Iraqi state .

MR. RUSSERT: I want to go back to '07 when Bob Woodward wrote a piece in The Washington Post about comments you made to the Iraqi Study Group , and have a chance to talk about that regarding Iraq .

"On the morning of November 13, 2006 , members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group gathered ... in the ... Roosevelt Room of the White House . CIA Director Michael Hayden ... said, `the inability of the [Iraqi] government to govern seems irreversible,' adding that he could not `point to any milestone or checkpoint where we can turn this thing around,' according to written records of his briefing and the recollections of six participants.

"`The government is unable to govern,' Hayden concluded. `We have spent a lot of energy and treasure creating a government that is balance, and it cannot function.'"

Is that an accurate assessment of what you said?

GEN. HAYDEN: It's an incomplete assessment of, of what I said. What, what I said was inability to govern or turn this around in the short term is, is what I precisely said. And then I, I tried to use a sports metaphor. I talked about running a marathon, and what I, what I said to the, to the group there is I'd run a marathon in Pittsburgh , and Pittsburgh 's pretty hilly, as you know,

and at about mile 21 there's a two-mile downhill stretch. And as you get down to the bottom of that hill, it's only three miles to the finish and you run three miles before church on Sunday. So I knew if I got to mile 22, there was a natural break that would begin to turn things into my favor. What I was saying to the commission was, there were no longer any natural breaks lying ahead of us that would turn things in our favor. It had to be done with just slogging through hard work. There were no upcoming elections, for example, no upcoming changes in the political structure that would be natural breaks. That's what I was trying to say to the committee.

MR. RUSSERT: Was the surge a natural break?

GEN. HAYDEN: The surge created an opportunity. The surge, in its own way, was an artificial imposition of a break. It changed the equation. That's exactly what it did. And it allowed some space for the Iraqis to step up, and they've begun to do that.

MR. RUSSERT: Could Prime Minister Maliki have been successful in Basra if, in fact, he is without considerable U.S. air power and, and operational support on the ground?

GEN. HAYDEN: Well, we'll see. Only, only now do we begin to see perhaps an increased reliance on, on coalition fire power . You know, we've, we've made the point when people talk about the American troop presence in Iraq that it's not so much coalition power , coalition combat power that's the measure. What you need is combat power that is competent and evenhanded. And that, over time, we would expect more and more of that definition to be met by Iraqi security forces . Now you see Maliki trying to do this now, and, and, frankly, he may not have enough Iraqi competent and evenhanded combat power to pull this off. Hence, the need for some coalition support.

MR. RUSSERT: In fact, you said that two weeks ago that an abrupt pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq would remove needed competent and evenhanded combat power from the country ."We are not at the point where the Iraqis can provide all of that. And I don't think we'll be at that point for some time.'"

GEN. HAYDEN: That's correct.

MR. RUSSERT: What is "for some time"?

GEN. HAYDEN: I -- the better experts on this are going to be coming into town next week. Dave Petraeus , the commander of multinational forces in Iraq , and Ambassador Crocker . I think they'll be able to, to give a better description of it. But what I was trying to express when I said that, you know, this is not something that's going to happen next week or next month. This is going to be a gradual slope as Iraqis , again, build this competence in terms of their combat power and apply it in a more evenhanded way.

MR. RUSSERT: It's going to take years.

GEN. HAYDEN: I think so.

MR. RUSSERT: The report from Iraq was supposed to be given to Congress , I believe on today. It's being delayed somewhat. Is that because of the situation in Basra ?

GEN. HAYDEN: I'm sorry, what report?

MR. RUSSERT: From Iraq from General Petraeus .

GEN. HAYDEN: I, I, I'm just not aware of the precise timeline.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think this military activity in Basra is a setback for political reconciliation in Iraq ?

GEN. HAYDEN: You, you know, Tim , this was something that we all knew we had to go through. This was inevitable. This had to be resolved. You just can't have the second major city in the country -- economically, the most important city in the country -- beyond the control of the government . And so, although, you know, there, there's a certain sense of -- what's the right word, Tim ? -- disappointment in, in that -- the fact that violence is increasing, we knew we couldn't get to where we had to be for the Iraqi state , for a modern democratic Iraqi state , without going through this.

MR. RUSSERT: You were not at the CIA on September 11th , 2001 and the successive months after that. You were at the National Security Agency . But looking back at what the American people were told about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq , was there a colossal intelligence failure?

GEN. HAYDEN: Yeah, we got it wrong. All right? And although I wasn't at the CIA , I was in the room when that National Intelligence Estimate was approved by the community -- it wasn't just a CIA document -- and frankly, Tim , I voted yes. It was my belief that what we were saying in that document was correct.

MR. RUSSERT: Why did you get it wrong?

GEN. HAYDEN: Lots of reasons. This, this has certainly been gone over by whole generation of American intelligence officers. There are a couple of narratives. I can suggest a few to you right now. Number one, maybe momentum in terms of what we knew about Iraq , what we had learned about Iraq . And even though our more recent reporting had been very thin, we still kind of carried the old conclusions forward without, frankly, holding them up enough to the light in order to see whether or not they were still valid. I, I'll tell you this. I've seen since then, I've seen estimates that we've had with high confidence turn to medium confidence. And I'd say to our..., "Why is that now medium confidence? Nothing's changed." And, and the answer is, "Yes, but the information on which it has been based has aged off, and therefore we're reducing our confidence level ." So we've gone to school on this.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Pakistan . This was the article on Thursday in The Washington Post . "The United States has escalated its unilateral strikes against al-Qaeda members and fighters" -- excuse me -- "operating in Pakistan 's tribal areas , partly because of anxieties that Pakistan 's new leaders will insist on scaling back military operations in that country , according to U.S. officials.

" Washington is worried that pro-Western President Pervez Musharraf , who has generally supported the U.S. strikes, will almost certainly have reduced powers in the months ahead, and so it wants to inflict as much damage as it can to al-Qaeda 's network now, the officials said."

Can you confirm that?

GEN. HAYDEN: No. I'm not -- or I can't talk about -- confirm or deny any, any operational activity by CIA or any other organ of the U.S. government . But, but what I can tell you about is the situation along the Af-Pak border, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, which presents clear and present danger to Afghanistan , to Pakistan and to the West in general, and to the United States in particular.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that's where Osama bin Laden is?

GEN. HAYDEN: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Michael Mullen , the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , believes that there is -- if there is another terrorist attack , it will originate there.

GEN. HAYDEN: We believe so, too. We, we, we can see what's going on. Our -- you, you talked before about intelligence and how good or ill we have been in the past. We've gotten much better against al-Qaeda , and, of course, tomorrow we should be better than we are today. So, you know, that's not an absolute scale. We have to keep getting better. But it's very clear to us that al-Qaeda has been able, over the past 18 months or so, to establish a safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area that they have not enjoyed before, that they are bringing operatives into that region for training, operatives that, a phrase I would use, Tim , wouldn't attract your attention if they were going through the customs line at Dulles with you when you're coming back from overseas.

MR. RUSSERT: Look, look, look Western?

GEN. HAYDEN: Look Western , who, who, who would be able to come into this country with -- again, without attracting the kind of attention that others might.

MR. RUSSERT: You're getting better local cooperation?

GEN. HAYDEN: We have good cooperation with a variety of allies, and, and I should add, maybe as a point to some of the things that were made in The Washington Post article, that -- a counterpoint to it, that we have not had a better partner in the war against terrorism than the Pakistani government .

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that President Musharraf will be there by June?

GEN. HAYDEN: I don't know. This is, this is going to be a product of the Pakistani political process.

MR. RUSSERT: You talked about some internal divisions within al-Qaeda , between Saudis and Egyptians. Do you believe that Osama bin Laden is simply a figurehead?

GEN. HAYDEN: A figurehead would, would not give him sufficient weight. Let me use iconic figure. It, it -- his presence -- and icon's the best word I can think of -- gives certain punch, certain image to the, to the global movement. But he's not operationally involved. And an awful lot, an awful lot of the operational force of al-Qaeda -- you know, the Arabic name is the name and then often finished by the country they're from -- an awful lot of them are al- Masris , which means "the Egyptians."

MR. RUSSERT: In 2006 , President Musharraf had an agreement with some of the tribal lords, saying that it would be hands off by the Pakistani army . The result of that seems to be this increased terrorist activity or at least organizational ability. Was that a mistake by Musharraf ?

GEN. HAYDEN: Absolutely disastrous. All right? And then, and then, and, look, to be fair to President Musharraf , in different times and in different circumstances, all of us would think that what he had, what he had decided to do was wise, was patient, was, was what you need to do over the long term. The problem was what was happening over the short term. He, he was, in fact, pulling forces and the writ of the Pakistani government back from the tribal region, and al- Qaeda and the Taliban were having more and more free reign there. And so, again, the overall objective, you know, in the easier military hand -- more economic, cultural, political integration , investment, worked for the long term, it's inarguable. But what it turned into since September of '06, when Governor Aurakzai signed that peace agreement in north Waziristan is what I referred to a minute ago. It created that safe haven .

MR. RUSSERT: Did you tell Musharraf when you met with him in January about that?

GEN. HAYDEN: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: And he's changed?

GEN. HAYDEN: He, he -- yes. He's -- he, he understands.

MR. RUSSERT: One last question on that. Could we apprehend bin Laden , but are we concerned if we did it would jeopardize our ability to monitor what al-Qaeda 's doing?

GEN. HAYDEN: No. Bin Laden , Zawahiri , the other leadership of al-Qaeda , I suppose one could make an argument on the one hand, on the other hand. But I can tell you, operationally, we, we are turning every effort to kill or capture that leadership from the top to the bottom.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the whole issue of the apprehension of a terrorist -- or alleged terrorists and how they're treated. The -- as you know, several years ago the Army , in its manual, rewrote the sections about torture and interrogation."A new U.S. Army manual bans torture and degrading treatment of prisoners, for the first time specifically mentioning forced nakedness, hooding and other procedures that have become infamous since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks ....

"It also explicitly bans beating prisoners, sexually humiliating them, threatening them with dogs, depriving them of food or water, performing mock executions, shocking them with electricity, burning them, causing other pain and a technique called water torturing -- or ` waterboarding ' that

simulates drowning, said Lieutenant General John Kimmons , Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence . Officials said the revisions are based on lessons learned since the U.S. began taking prisoners in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the" U.S.

Now, that's the Army .

GEN. HAYDEN: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: Does not apply to the Central Intelligence Agency .

GEN. HAYDEN: Correct.

MR. RUSSERT: But John McCain , who will be the Republican nominee for president, a former POW, said this:"All I can say is that" waterboarding "was used in the Spanish Inquisition , it was used in Pol Pot 's genocide in Cambodia , and there are reports that it is being used against Buddhist monks today. ... It is torture ."

Do you believe that waterboarding 's torture ?

GEN. HAYDEN: What's more important is what the Department of Justice believes, and, frankly, the question of waterboarding , I've, I tried to point this out in as many ways as I can publicly, is an uninteresting question for the Central Intelligence Agency . We have not -- and I, I made this public last month -- we have not waterboarded anyone in now over five years, and only three people have been waterboarded in in the life of the CIA 's interrogation program .

The issue with the Army Field Manual is not the false dichotomy that, that some people want to create, that on the one hand you've got the Army field manual and on the other hand you've got the licensing of torture . That, that's not the choice at all. The Army has listed -- and by the way, the real debate, the real impact for us isn't on the list of things you've forbidden. That's fairly uninteresting to us. What's critical for the Army Field Manual , were it to be applied to CIA , is what's authorized and limiting the CIA only to what's authorized. No one claims that that list of authorized techniques in the Army Field Manual exhausts the universe of lawful interrogation techniques that the republic can draw on to defend itself. And so the issue for us is, is, is not torture or licensing torture or licensing waterboarding . And to the best of my ability I've made it very clear that we don't do that. But to limit us to what America's Army thinks they can train young soldiers to do under minimal supervision against lawful combatants in a transient battlefield situation, when our circumstances are completely different, means we're undercutting our ability to defend the nation.

MR. RUSSERT: As you know, many in Congress disagree. They think the CIA should abide by...

GEN. HAYDEN: I know.

MR. RUSSERT: ...what's in the Army Field Manual .

GEN. HAYDEN: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: Because they don't want U.S. servicemen who are taken in captivity by others to be tortured.

GEN. HAYDEN: Right. Well, first of all, we're not talking about torture , all right? I mean, torture is a legal term. Now, there are some things that are illegal that are not, that are not torture . And so we cloud the debate when, when we throw the word torture out there, I think, in a far too casual way. But, but I understand the concerns of members of Congress . And I've said this to them personally, I've said it to them publicly and I've said it to them in closed hearing sessions, that if you want to limit what CIA does, we'll live inside whatever box you create. But to simply arbitrarily take a manual created for one population and one purpose and to just drop it on another organization with a different population of interrogators, a different population of detainees in completely different purposes flies in the face of logic.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe now that the Justice Department allows the CIA to engage in waterboarding ?

GEN. HAYDEN: I don't -- the real answer is -- I'm going to be very candid -- I have no idea. And do you know why? Because I've not asked. And, and I know that previous opinions may no longer be extant because there have been a series of changes in American law since those opinions were issued.

MR. RUSSERT: So anything the CIA would do would be approved and signed off by the Justice Department ?

GEN. HAYDEN: It would have to be approved and signed off as lawful , consistent with our Constitution and our international obligations.

MR. RUSSERT: Dick , Dick Cheney , the vice president, was on MEET THE PRESS five days after September 11th , and we had a conversation about intelligence operations, and he offered this assessment. Let's listen.

(Videotape, September 16, 2001 )

VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: We also have to work, though, sort of the, the dark side , if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in, in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in. And so it's going to be vital for us to, to use any means at our disposable -- disposal, basically, to, to achieve our objective.

MR. RUSSERT: "The dark side ," "the shadows," "use any means at our disposal" -- has the CIA changed since September 11th , 2001 , in the way it conducts itself?

GEN. HAYDEN: Sure. We've learned a great deal. You know, we're, we're a learning organization . And I should add, you know, within the confines of American law , obviously. But, Tim , we're America 's secret intelligence service, and the wisdom of the republic for the last

years is that's a good thing for this nation to have. Right? So we are different. You, you come into our, you come into our main lobby, and off to the left is the gospel of John , "You should know the truth and it shall make you free." But if you walk up the stairs and you look to the left down towards our museum -- which some folks say it's the best museum you'll probably never see, right? -- there's a quote on the wall that says, "We are the nation's first line of defense. We go where others cannot go, and we accomplish what others cannot accomplish." This is a special and a unique rule -- role that is performed by the good men and women, law-abiding men and women, your friends and neighbors, but operating somewhat in that space that the vice president described.

MR. RUSSERT: "In the dark side , in the shadows."

GEN. HAYDEN: "In the shadows."

MR. RUSSERT: After September 11th , the NSA began to eavesdrop, wiretap Americans without court approval. That has now stopped, you need approval by the FISA courts, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Administrative courts. How many Americans were eavesdropped on after September 11th ?

GEN. HAYDEN: I can't get into, into the specific numbers, but I can tell you that every aspect of that program has now been briefed to every member of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee and the House and Senate Judiciary Committees . And, and to make sure everyone understands precisely what we're talking about here because, again, this kind of casual use of language -- you didn't use it, and I appreciate it -- but, but a lot of folks have called it " domestic spying , domestic eavesdropping." In every case these were international calls.

MR. RUSSERT: Was it hundreds or thousands?

GEN. HAYDEN: No, I, I, I won't get into the numbers, Tim . But I think if I, if I were able to, I, I, I'd think the numbers would, would cause you less alarm.

MR. RUSSERT: Were any mistakes made?

GEN. HAYDEN: How do you mean?

MR. RUSSERT: Did you go too far? Did -- were, were innocent people targeted?

GEN. HAYDEN: That's, that's a great question, and it brings up the whole purpose of, of intelligence , all right? Intelligence isn't about guilt or innocence. Intelligence is about learning things that can protect the American people . So that, for example, if you're to go up on, on an intercept, on a communications path, on, on a communicant, and, and you cover that communicant, and after 30 or 45 days you haven't found anything of interest, OK, that doesn't say anything about the innocence of anybody. It may say an awful lot about their operational security .

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iran . In 2007 , November, the National Intelligence Estimate came out, and this is what, what, what it concluded:"We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003 , Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear

weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. ... We assess with moderate confidence Tehran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid- 2007 , but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons ." Is that still operative?

GEN. HAYDEN: Yeah, it is. I mean, we, we stand by the judgment. It's a very difficult judgment. It was made -- complex judgment, too, and it, it's one that, unfortunately, tends to get oversimplified in public discourse . I mean, another part of the report that we emphasized is that program that stopped in 2003 . It was clearly they were weaponizing, building the actual device. It remains a program that the Iranians continue to deny ever existed. And the other aspects of the Iranian nuclear effort beyond the weaponization -- the development of fissile material , the development of delivery systems -- all continue apace.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe the Iranians are trying to develop a nuclear program ?

GEN. HAYDEN: I -- personal...

MR. RUSSERT: Yes.

GEN. HAYDEN: Personal belief? Yes. It's hard for me to explain. And, you know, this is not court of law stuff. This is, this is, you know, in terms of beyond all reasonable doubt , this is, this is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence. OK. Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they're doing now if they did not have, at a minimum, at a minimum, if they did not have the desire to keep the option open to, to develop a nuclear weapon and perhaps even more so, that they've already decided to do that? It's very difficult for us to judge intent, and so we have to work back from actions. Why the continuing production of fissile material , and Natanz ? They say it's for civilian purposes, and yet the, the planet, the globe, states around the world have offered them fissile material under controls so they can have their, their, their civilian nuclear program . But the Iranians have rejected that. I mean, when you start looking at that, and you get, not just the United States , but you get the U.N. Security Council imposing sanctions on them, why would they go through that if it were not to develop the technology that would allow them to create fissile material not under international control ?

MR. RUSSERT: I can hear a lot of listeners, viewers asking, "Well, then why did Saddam Hussein not cooperate more fully if he, in fact, did not have weapons of mass destruction ?" Sometimes, people behave in strange ways that we don't understand.

GEN. HAYDEN: Oh, yeah, I understand. But, but, again, you've asked me for an assessment, you've asked me -- and I can only work from the facts that I see. In Saddam 's case, he had a nuclear weapon program , he had a weapons of mass destruction program . He stopped it, but in -- almost in a deathbed confession, he tells us that he maintained, he continued to maintain the illusion because he wanted the world, or at least the neighborhood, to think that he still had these, these weapons.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that the world and many in the United States would be suspect if the United States government came forward and said, "We now believe Iran has a nuclear program , based on our experience with mass destruction in Iraq "?

GEN. HAYDEN: My community -- and, and that judgment would be based on the work of my community, has additional burdens to carry because of the Iraq NIE in which we got so much of that estimate wrong.

MR. RUSSERT: Fifty percent of the analysts at the CIA have been hired since September 11th .

GEN. HAYDEN: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: That's extraordinary turnover.

GEN. HAYDEN: It's not turnover, it's addition.

MR. RUSSERT: Addition.

GEN. HAYDEN: It's expansion, all right? In 2007 , and we've got -- we, we chart this because this is a very important matter for us, just in the management of the agency, not just for today but over the long term, and the portion of our work force that has five or fewer years of experience has been growing through 2007 . In 2008 , it will be the first year in which it will not be growing. And the, and the portion of our work force that now we begin to expand is now the five to 15 year group, which is actually the group you really want to have strength in. Those are your shop stewards and floor bosses.

MR. RUSSERT: You also made a decision a few weeks ago to provide insurance to about two- thirds of your employees.

GEN. HAYDEN: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: Explain that.

GEN. HAYDEN: Yeah. This is liability insurance . It's, it's not all that expensive, but the private providers do pay for lawyers and damage claims against our officers who perform -- who are, who are called into court because of questions about what they've done in performance of their duties. I felt that was absolutely essential to do. And let me make a point here, Tim , because I think it's very important as to what this is not and what it is. What it is not is looking backwards , as some people have suggested, in trying, trying to cover alleged sins or crimes in 2003 , 2004 . Like an insurance policy , you can't buy it in 2008 and have it cover things that went on before.

MR. RUSSERT: It's not retroactive?

GEN. HAYDEN: It's not. It's looking forward . And, and here's, and here's the issue. And actually, it's one of the reasons I'm here, is that the public discourse about CIA and CIA activities has become incredibly caustic, and there are real people , as I said before, friends and neighbors, very patriotic people who comprise the work for us of the Central Intelligence Agency . And activities of the agency have been subject to, I think, some, some, some unfair, unbalanced criticisms even though the activities of the agency have been lawful and have been based on opinions coming out of the Department of Justice . The last thing I need as director is to have a

CIA officer, when I go and tell him to do something in the shadows and point out to him it is perfectly lawful , that the Department of Justice has reviewed it, our lawyers have reviewed it, it's lawful , justice says it's OK and it's clear on its face that will help protect the nation, I do not need that officer handicapping what he thinks the next set of election results might be. I need him to have confidence in that DOJ opinion. I can't have that officer weighing in his mind, "This could become an issue later" and beginning to balance his kids' college tuition account with his doing his lawful duty to defend the republic . So I'm taking that off the table. We're going to pay for that. We're going to give people this insurance policy so that they can focus on doing their lawful duty.

MR. RUSSERT: General Michael Hayden , we thank you very much for coming and sharing your views on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency .

GEN. HAYDEN: Thanks.

MR. RUSSERT: We hope you'll come back.

GEN. HAYDEN: Thanks very much.

MR. RUSSERT: Thanks, General.

Coming next, Obama and Clinton toe-to-toe, the Democratic primary campaign goes on. Is it hurting the party 's chances this November? The New York Times ' David Brooks , The New Republic 's Peter Beinart coming up right here only on MEET THE PRESS .

MR. RUSSERT: Our political roundtable, David Brooks of The New York Times , Peter Beinart of Time magazine , The New Republic and the Council on Foreign Relations after this station break.

MR. RUSSERT: Peter Beinart , David Brooks , welcome both.

Mr. Brooks , you stirred things up on Tuesday with this column, and here it is."The Long Defeat . Hillary Clinton 's presidential prospects continue to dim. The door is closing. Night is coming. The end, however, is not near.

"Last week, an important Clinton adviser told Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen of Politico that Clinton had no more than a 10 percent chance of getting the nomination. Now she's probably down to a 5 percent chance . Five percent.

"Let's take a look at what she's going to put her party through for the sake of that 5 percent chance . ... For three more months (maybe more!) the campaign will proceed along and in its Verdun -like pattern. There will be steady rifle fire of character assassination from the underlings, interrupted by the occasional firestorm of artillery when the contest touches upon

race, gender or patriotism. The policy debates between the two have been long exhausted, so the only way to get the public really engaged is by poking some raw national wound."

You think that Hillary Clinton should, in effect, get out.

MR. DAVID BROOKS: I think she should slow down the campaign , run what Mike Huckabee ran, a dignified campaign , not attacking her opponents, go through North Carolina and then get out. She really has very little opportunity to win. The Jeremiah Wright thing was big, the big scandal, the biggest thing Barack Obama 's faced really in months. It didn't hurt him. We now have the polling results from poll after poll. It's clear it didn't hurt him. The voters were not shaken off him. The -- Michigan and Florida are not going to revote, the superdelegates are never going to overrule the pledge delegates, so her chances are really small. And so what happens is the war is going to take control . Howard Dean talking about July 1st , three more months of this? That means we're not in the eighth inning of this race, we're in the fourth inning. We're halfway there, and for three more months we're going to go after each other. And, as I wrote, they're not going to go after each other on policy issues because the policy issues, they're not really big differences and they've exhausted them. This race is different from every other Democratic race because it's about race and gender, ultimately, and personality. So they're going to fixate on those three things, and they're going to make the party look pretty bad. And, you know, Howard Dean has asked them to, to wrap this thing up. When Howard Dean is your voice of sanity and moderation, you're a party in trouble. So they, they really got to straighten this out.

MR. RUSSERT: There are some people who disagree, obviously. Here is one, Friday, in North Carolina .

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON: All these people tell you, "Oh, we need to shut this thing down now. The Democrats are so divided." That's a bunch of bull.

MR. RUSSERT: I think we beeped out maybe the second half. And the candidate herself had this to say to The Washington Post yesterday, and I'll read it.

"In her most definitive comments to date on the subject, Sen. Hillary Clinton sought Saturday to put to rest any notion that she will drop out of the presidential race, pledging in an interview to not only compete in all the remaining primaries, but also continue until there is a resolution of the disqualified results in Florida and Michigan .

"`I know there are some people who want to shut this down. I think they're wrong. ... I have no intention of stopping until we finish what we started and until we see what happens in the next 10 contests and until we resolve Florida and Michigan . And if we don't resolve it, we'll resolve it at the convention that's what credentials committees are for.'...

"Asked if there was a scenario in which she would drop out before the last primaries on June 3 , Clinton said no. `I am committed to competing everywhere that there is an election.'"

There you have it.

MR. BROOKS: Credentials fight. Is this what the Democratic Party really wants? What happened this week? Her approval ratings are now at their seven-year low. This has begun to hurt her, in particular, but it's begun to hurt the entire party . Barack Obama used to lead among independent votes against John McCain . Now, according to some polls, John McCain leads among independent voters. This is going to go on, and people are going to wonder "Do we really trust these people to run the country ?" Now, I still think it's a Democratic year, they still have the advantage, but we've spent the last six or seven years making -- the Republicans have been making it clear that they're chumps. We've forgotten how the Democratic Party can be chumps. And they're, they're going to be bringing out the worst in each other and we're going to say, "Are these people going to really manage the entire health care system ?" I mean, these people couldn't run a- -I was saying the other day, they couldn't run a bordello in a gold rush . So it's just going to bring out the worst of the party and diminish the prestige of the party and particularly the prestige of the two candidates.

MR. RUSSERT: Peter , way back in January you seemed to foresee this might be coming in an article you wrote for the, for The Washington Post . And let me read it to you and our viewers.

MR. BROOKS: So it's just going to bring out the worst of the party and diminish the prestige of the party and particularly the prestige of the two candidates.

MR. RUSSERT: Peter , way back in January you seemed to foresee this might be coming in an article you wrote for the, for The Washington Post . And let me read it to you and our viewers. "The tone of the Obama - Clinton race has pundits worried. `The concern is this bitter campaign could end up hurting whoever the nominee is.'...

"[But] bitter primary contests don't necessarily hurt candidates in the general election . In a 1998 study, the University of New Mexico 's Lonna Rae Atkeson found that when you control for other factors, divisive presidential primaries have a `marginal or even nonexistent effect in understanding general election outcomes.'...

"It's quite possible, therefore, that Obama and Clinton would actually be stronger general-election candidates than if their path through the primaries had been a cakewalk. Both are bringing new voters into the Democratic Party in droves. ... Some of those new voters will be alienated if their candidate loses, of course, but it's a good bet that most of them will be like the Deaniacs [of 2004 ] and stick with the party 's nominee come fall.

"The reason is simple: Obama and Clinton are much closer to each other ideologically than either is to any potential Republican. When primary voters stay home or defect across party lines in the general election , it's usually because they think their party 's nominee is no better than the other side's."

Since that time, John McCain has emerged as the presumptive Republican nominee. Does that change your thinking?

MR. BEINART: No, it really doesn't. I think Barack Obama is actually a stronger candidate, just as David was saying, today, than he was a few months ago. He has weathered this Jeremiah

Wright scandal, which was the biggest problem of his campaign . It's better for him that it came out now. Imagine if we only learned about Jeremiah Wright in October. He has shown that he can take a punch, he's shown that he knows how to respond to a Swift Boat -style attack and I think he's actually become a better candidate because these primaries have been so tough.

MR. RUSSERT: Pat Leahy , the Democratic senator from Vermont , supporter of Barack Obama , gave a radio interview on Friday. Let's listen.

(Audiotape, March 28, 2008 )

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): There is no way that Senator Clinton is going to win enough delegates to get the nomination. She ought to withdraw and she ought to be backing Senator Obama . ... I am very concerned. I mean, John McCain , who has been making one gaffe after another, is getting a free ride on it because Senator Obama and Senator Clinton have to fight with each other. I think that her criticism is hurting him more than anything John McCain has said.

MR. RUSSERT: Peter , Pat Leahy 's saying that Hillary Clinton 's comments about Barack Obama , not measuring up as commander in chief and so forth, hurting Obama more than anything McCain has said about Obama .

MR. BEINART: I don't think that's true. I think, in fact, that Barack Obama is a stronger general election candidate today than he was. And the general problem is you can't ask Hillary Clinton to drop out, it seems to me, reasonably, if she's winning states . If she starts to lose states , I think there's no question she will be out of this race. If she loses Pennsylvania on April 22 , if she loses Indiana , certainly, on May 6 . Maybe even if she just loses North Carolina on May 6 . But if, in the unlikely event that she manages to win these states , it's going to be very difficult to tell her to drop out.

MR. RUSSERT: Democratic conventions in '68, '72, '80, badly divided. All three times , they lost the general election .

MR. BEINART: That's true, but there were other factors at work here and one can also look at cases where, where the, where the, the primary campaign went on for a very, very long time and in fact people managed to win the general election . When, when presidents have primary challenges, like, like Jimmy Carter did in 1980 , like George Bush 's father did in 1992 , it's a very bad sign. But when it's an open field and it's a very contested primary , there's no evidence, actually, that it hurts you in the general election .

MR. RUSSERT: David Brooks , your point about gender, I was quite taken by some of the comments made by the Clinton campaign over this last week. Here's Bill Clinton on Wednesday in West Virginia .

(Videotape, March 26, 2008 )

FMR. PRES. CLINTON: Apparently it's OK to say bad things about a girl. It's OK. The only thing that matters is what happens to you. That's all that matters. If a politician doesn't want to get beat up, you shouldn't run for office.

MR. RUSSERT: And then the former governor of Vermont , Madeleine Kunin , had this to say on Friday.

(Audiotape, March 28, 2008 )

FMR. GOV. MADELEINE KUNIN (D-VT): It seems a bit patronizing to tell her, "Honey, you've got to drop out for the good of the party ."

MR. RUSSERT: And then Senator Clinton herself, or her advisers, according to The New York Times , "Mrs. Clinton told aides that she would not be `bullied out' of the race. ... She compared the situation to the ` big boys ' trying to bully a woman."

MR. BROOKS: That's why this is different from all the others. The other Democratic debates were debates between the center and the left. The Republican splits have been the center and the right. They were ideological policy debates and they would go at each other on policy issues with some personality brought in there. This is about everybody. This is about how women feel about the party , this is about how African Americans feel about the party , this is about how the country feels about the party . And so this -- and I keep emphasizing this fact, we're halfway there, we're three months away. Three months ago was Iowa . That seems a long time ago. Three months from now is going to be a long time from now, and emotions will change. And to have a debate about these touchy issues of race and gender in the midst of a campaign , a debate that is led by political hacks who are going to demean it in all the worst possible ways, as, I think, frankly, Bill Clinton did just there, it's just, it's just going to be bad for the party . And I'm not saying it's going to hurt Barack Obama among Democrats , but it's going to hurt him among independents , it's going to hurt him among Republicans , and it's going to, I just think, demean the party . I've never seen an elevated debate in the midst of this kind of viciousness.

MR. BEINART: But we just went through Jeremiah Wright , and David already said that it hasn't hurt Barack Obama amongst independents . The evidence is in.

MR. BROOKS: Among the independents , among Democrats .

MR. BEINART: But it hasn't hurt him amongst independents , either. It has hurt him a little bit amongst Republicans . Republicans , I think, are coming home to John McCain , to some degree. I think that was probably inevitable. I think it's worth noting that we also -- this seems so stretched out because the primary was so compressed, the calendar's changed over the four years that it's become so compressed that now it seems epically long, when it's really just as long as it was eight or 12 years ago.

MR. BROOKS: One thing I do agree with Peter on, Hillary shouldn't get out because she's weak, she should get out because she's strong. She has no chance of winning, I think, or a very small chance , but she's strong. So she's going to have an arc, where the arc of this race is going to be for the next couple of months. Why is she still in it? Why is she still in it? Then she's going to win Pennsylvania , maybe win it by 8, 9, 10, 11 points. Then it'll be, she's back! And so she'll get a bounce. Maybe she'll do well in North Carolina , Indiana , other places. So she really can plausibly go into the convention strong.

MR. BEINART: But if she...

MR. BROOKS: Without a chance of winning. And that's the, that's the crux.

MR. BEINART: I totally agree with David that her chances are 5 percent or even less at this point. But if she wins Pennsylvania and wins Indiana , comes close in North Carolina , wins West Virginia , wins Kentucky , there are a lot of states later on which actually are quite good for her, wins Puerto Rico , then I think the chances are above 5 percent.

MR. RUSSERT: The superdelegates would say, even though she's behind in elected delegates, she's shown momentum and strength as a candidate.

MR. BEINART: I wouldn't bet the mortgage on it. I think it's still, by far, the less likely scenario. But if she has a real winning streak , then I think we've been wrong before in these, in these predictions. I certainly have.

MR. BROOKS: That's exactly my argument. That's why it's a mess because she'll go in strong.

MR. RUSSERT: One of the more interesting photographs from the week was this. This is Hillary Rodham Clinton talking to Richard Mellon Scaife , who owns the Pittsburgh paper, the Tribune-Review . That is the same Richard Mellon Scaife who basically funded the investigations of Troopergate , Whitewater , through American Spectator contributions. He had suggested that perhaps Vince Foster did not commit suicide. One theory was that Hillary Clinton paid for an apartment, rented an apartment where he was killed, that Ron Brown did not die accidentally in a plane crash . What did you make of that meeting?

MR. BEINART: Well, it is remarkable. I mean, the Clintons have spent a lot of time, since she entered public life , trying to reconcile with their former opponents. You remember, she co- sponsored a lot of legislation with people who were involved in, in her husband's impeachment. So it may be that this is simply that. There are others who see more nefarious things involved. But I think it may simply be part of Hillary Clinton 's effort to win everybody back over to her side.

MR. BROOKS: There's a joke, a Woody Allen joke, in "The End of Days ." "The lion will lie down with the lamb but the lamb won't get much sleep." I'm not sure who's the lamb is in that picture. They're both kind of lions. Obama told us he would be the unifier but maybe she's actually the unifier.

MR. RUSSERT: James Carville called him the "godfather of the vast right-wing conspiracy."

MR. BROOKS: Yeah. Well, she's brought us all together. She's filled the breach.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me talk about those polls that you both alluded to. Here's the latest NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll. Head to head, Clinton , Obama , 45, 45. It's a pick 'em. In the general election , McCain over Clinton , 46, 44. Obama over McCain , 44, 42. Both within the margin of error.

Here's the favorable, unfavorable. Hillary Clinton . It is now 37 positive, negative 48. Just two weeks ago, Clinton was at 45, 43. She's dropped 8 points with her positive rating in two weeks . And look at the breakdown by party . Republicans , 10 positive, 79 negative; independents , just 24 percent positive, 56 percent negative; Democrats split 66, 17.

Obama , his positive is 49, 32. Two weeks ago, it was 51, 28. A modest drop in two weeks during the whole Reverend Wright controversy. Here's breakdown by party . His positive amongst Republicans is 19. Remember, Clinton 's was 10. Independents , it's 49. Clinton 's was 24. Democrats , it's 71. Clinton 's was 66.

Who can unite the country ? This is all voters, Democrats , Republicans , independents . Obama , 60 to 34; McCain , 58, 35; Clinton , 46 to 50. Peter , what does that tell you?

MR. BEINART: I think it tells me that if Hillary Clinton , in the very unlikely event that she were to win this nomination, she would be very damaged by the fight. And you can see that in those numbers. She's been the one who's been more damaged. But I think -- it makes the point that I was making earlier, that Barack Obama , who's the person much more likely to win this nomination, has not -- and he's gone through the crucible of the campaign . He's gone through the Jeremiah Wright controversy, and his numbers among, among independents have barely dipped at all. So what I think it suggests is that he can survive a contest that goes into May or June and still be a very attractive figure amongst independent voters.

MR. RUSSERT: Who do the Republicans want to run against?

MR. BROOKS: I think they still want to run against Hillary . I think they felt that way for a year and I think they still fear Obama more, though they fear him less than they did. There was a sense that he would crush Republicans 60, 40, I think, among the Republicans I've spoken to. Now they think they have a shot against him. So that has changed. And the independents , remember, they're not -- it's not just a one-man or one-woman race, it's vis-a-vis, and it's vis-a-vis McCain . McCain 's approvals are shooting up, 67 percent approval now, especially among independents . So it's remarkable that those numbers are so close in a year when the Democrats have such a huge advantage overall.

MR. RUSSERT: You wrote a column the other day, David , saying that if you read John McCain 's foreign policy speech of last week closely, in your mind it's not a Bush third term, and it's going to be difficult to portray him as that. But what about Iraq and the events of the last few days? Doesn't that make it difficult for John McCain ?

MR. BROOKS: Not necessarily. It depends how the events shake out. Remember, this is not like all the other insurgency fighting, this is the Maliki government going after the insurgents. If they win, if they actually establish a monopoly of force in Iraq , make it a more normal country ,

that'll, that'll be good for McCain . But I think the, the McCain issue first, it's about character, him standing up for his beliefs in the dark time. That matters. But the second thing, that speech was so important because he broke with Bush on several ways. The first was is our entire foreign policy about the war on terror ? McCain said no. Should the U.S. go it alone on certain issues? He said no. We are a -- we need a strong America , but in the community of nations. And he detailed that. So it was a very supple and dramatic speech, I think.

MR. RUSSERT: Take 20 seconds, define the McCain vs. the Democratic race this fall.

MR. BEINART: The, the McCain race will be, will be Iraq and national security , more generally. It will be to try to make this another 9/11 presidential election , says -- say who has the experience. For the Democrats , it will be on the biggest foreign policy issue of our time John McCain was wrong, and on the economy he offers more of the same. We represent change.

MR. RUSSERT: So it will be George W. McCain ?

MR. BEINART: It will be. And historically, it is very difficult for one party to win three straight presidential elections . There is a natural pendulum swing. When you are the guy from the party in power , it's almost impossible to embody change. That is one of the big problems John McCain will have.

MR. RUSSERT: We thank Time magazine , The New Republic and the Council on Foreign Relations for loaning you out this morning, and The New York Times for you, Mr. Brooks . Keep on writing and thinking. We appreciate it.

And we'll be right back, right after this.

MR. RUSSERT: Two Decision 2008 programming notes. Tonight here on NBC , watch a special Sunday edition of " Countdown with Keith Olbermann ," celebrating their fifth anniversary. Happy anniversary, Keith . Tonight at 7 Eastern. And on MSNBC Wednesday night, " Hardball 's College Tour ," special guest, Barack Obama at 5 and 7 PM with Chris Matthews .

That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it is MEET THE PRESS .