For a longtime spook, Hayden is a breezy and direct writer. He reduces complex issues of cyber and information warfare to essentials, and his polemic is leavened with humor and sympathy. He is at his best, though, when he shifts to a purely analytical tone. He coolly forecasts the direction of America under Trump, explains the intelligence that foreign governments are likely to collect from the president’s Twitter feed and describes the benefits Russia drew from the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Kremlin-connected Russian attorneys and senior Trump campaign officials. Reading this book, I could not help being struck by the divide separating officials like Hayden from followers of Trump. Hayden’s narrative is filled with accolades for media institutions and figures distrusted by large numbers of Americans ... Hayden’s Assault on Intelligence, then, is more than an indictment of Trump. It is evidence of the social and cultural divide between everyday Americans and the highest levels of their government. What we learn from Hayden is that the upper echelons of the intelligence community are filled with patriots who can tell you what is happening in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan — but are at a loss for words when the scene shifts to a Pennsylvania bar.
His The Assault on Intelligence is a detailed, 292-page briefing on America’s current government. It’s not a pretty picture ... The bombshell section of the book is Chapter 7, 'Trump, Russia and Truth.' Hayden documents the pathway by which the Russian disinformation network became the dominant political voice in American social media during the 2016 presidential campaign ... For those who value America’s 242-year history of democracy (for some), Michael Hayden’s The Assault on Intelligence is a must-read strategic analysis of the current battle in America between democracy and tyranny.
This is indeed alarmist—but Hayden’s indictment of Trump’s campaign and presidency, and the wider forces he channels and embodies, does not quite live up to this apocalyptic billing. The book covers a lot of familiar territory and does not add much to our understanding of the populist and partisan turn in American and Western politics. However, it is striking that this jeremiad comes from a longtime insider, a Republican stalwart of past administrations and a fierce critic of the Barack Obama presidency. The more important, absorbing and disturbing aspect of Hayden’s book is the analysis from his professional perspective of what Trump and Trumpism mean for the intelligence community. It is sober, nuanced and, quite frankly, scary as hell. Hayden clearly feels an emotional commitment to his former colleagues in the intelligence community. At times this pushes him into hyperbole ... his attempt to compare the spy’s calling to that of other 'truth tellers—scholars, journalists, scientists, to name a few'—misses an obvious point about the essence of truth-telling. Spooks funnel their truths to their own cadre while engaging in duplicity and misdirection with most everyone else ... The book is strong on portraying tensions between the Trump administration and the intelligence community, beginning with the presidential transition when, as Hayden writes, the Trump team entered the White House with 'the air of a hostile corporate takeover.'
His writing on Trump’s America reads like Masha Gessen’s on Putin’s Russia (though not as eloquent). Hayden was no fan of Obama and found no place in his administration ... Hayden is nonetheless close to apoplectic about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his alarming affinities with his Russian counterpart ... He laments, after noting Trump’s relentless attacks on the press: 'If this is who we are or who we are becoming, I have wasted 40 years of my life.' And he takes umbrage at the idea that he and his old cohorts are working in secret to undermine Trump: 'There is no ‘deep state’ in the American Republic. There is only ‘the state,’ or, as I characterize it, career professionals doing their best within the rule of law. Not that they always play nice' ... No, they do not.