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National Security Council Changes Are Very Significant, Hayden Says


More now on that shake-up at the National Security Council. We are going to turn to General Michael Hayden. He served Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama in top intelligence posts as director of the National Security Agency and CIA and deputy director of national intelligence. General Hayden, welcome back to the program.

MICHAEL HAYDEN: Good morning.

MARTIN: Steve Bannon, senior adviser to President Donald Trump, a former news executive - no high-level military experience, no high-level national security experience - has now been guaranteed a spot at top National Security Council meetings. How significant is that?

HAYDEN: That's very significant, and as Mara just pointed out, very different from what has gone on for the past 16 years. Rachel, I cannot remember a meeting whose results I cared about where Karl Rove was present. And although David Axelrod occasionally attended NSC meetings, he was not what Bannon has now become, a charter member. It seems to me that it puts ideology at the center over the professional kinds of information that the DNI and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs bring to the party.

MARTIN: So you mentioned Karl Rove and - and David Axelrod. These were senior political advisers. So there's a concern here that Bannon is going to inject some kind of politics into national security issues.

HAYDEN: He will inject politics and his ideological brand of policy. And that will come in the face of what I call the - the fact guys, the guys coming in with data, the world-as-it-is people as opposed to Bannon, whom I would categorize as the-world-as-we-want-it-to-be, or he believes it to be. I - I was always worried because the president-elect - or the president, rather - has actually made some very powerful choices for heads of departments and agencies. I was quite pleased with the pool of talent that he had.

I was always concerned, though. How will the administration make decisions? How much of the center of gravity will be in the White House or out there in the departments and agencies? The executive order on the National Security Council - and frankly, Rachel, the executive order on refugees this past weekend - seems to suggest that the real power center is going to be in that 18 acres in downtown Washington, and not out there with those talented people in the departments and agencies.

MARTIN: So as you mentioned, this is a diminishment of the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top U.S. military adviser, and the director of national intelligence. They will be invited on a case-by-case basis, which is - is rather exceptional. Does it mean an overall diminishment for them in general?

HAYDEN: Well, I think what we know so far, what we've said so far, what the order says so far, gives a certain sense of diminishment. Now, they can come to the meetings. But their attendance is at the discretion of Mike Flynn, which is another way of saying that the people who are really controlling events here are in the White House. And by the way, if they're...

MARTIN: Mike Flynn, national security adviser. Yeah.

HAYDEN: Right, yeah. And by the way, Rachel, these guys are statutory advisers. Bannon is there by presidential directive. But the DNI and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs are, by law, the senior advisers to the NSC. So this is quite a remarkable setup.

MARTIN: Before I let you go, you mentioned the - the ban, the travel ban, that President Trump and the administration has put out there. Could I just get your take on that? Do you think, as someone who has studied America's national security threats for so long, that this is the right move at this moment?

HAYDEN: It's a horrible move. It is a political, ideological move driven by the language of the campaign and, frankly, campaign promises - promises in the campaign that were hyped (ph) by an exaggeration of the threat. And in fact, what we're doing now has probably made us less safe today than we were Friday morning before this happened because we are now living the worst jihadist narrative possible, that there is undying enmity between Islam and the West.

Muslims out there who were not part of the jihadist movement are now being shown that the story they're being told by the jihadists - they hate us; they're our enemy - that's being acted out by the American government. And frankly, Rachel, at a humanitarian level, it's an abomination.

MARTIN: General Michael Hayden. He served in top intelligence posts under three presidents. General Hayden, thank you so much for your time. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.