This critique of the forces threatening the American intelligence community, beginning with President Trump himself, outlines how the country's democratic structures and processes are under stress and discusses effective responses.
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.'