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The ‘golden age of electronic surveillance’ is ending, says former NSA and CIA chief Michael Hayden

As the intelligence community shifts to new tactics, the Trump administration is creating an “age of lies.”

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“The Assault on Intelligence” author Michael Hayden Mark Wilson / Getty Images

At America’s intelligence agencies, there are three ways to “steal secrets,” says former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden: Humans, signals and imagery. And for nearly two decades, signals were abundant as technology proliferated around the world.

“When I became the director of NSA in 1999, we were moving into the digital age,” Hayden said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “What we saw — and we said this to ourselves at NSA — ‘It’s going to be hard to keep up. It’s going to be really technically challenging, but if we do it even half well, this is going to be the golden age of electronic surveillance.’”

However, just like regular Americans, foreign enemies are “getting smarter about end-to-end encryption” and spies around the world are increasingly going to turn to other tactics. A prominent example is Christopher Steele’s now famous dossier, “all human-sourced,” alleging links between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Russian government.

But as Hayden argues in his new book “The Assault on Intelligence,” macro trends are colliding: Just as the intelligence community is evolving, President Trump and others are embracing a “post-truth” mindset that discourages the “pursuit of objective reality” altogether. In Trump’s world, if enough people believe that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, then it happened.

“We have a president who does not respect norms, and so we’ve got institutions pushing back,” Hayden said. “One of the great dangers for those institutions is that, in pushing back, they break their own norms.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, Hayden offered some advice for intelligence officials in Trump’s orbit: If you’re a political appointee, think twice before accepting the job; otherwise, keep going and don’t give up on the truth. Having served under Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama as director of the NSA and CIA, he also explained that intelligence briefings have to be tailored for the man in the Oval Office to be as effective as possible.

“President Bush learned in the discussion, in the argument; President Obama [learned] in the quiet moment, in the reflection,” Hayden said. “President Trump, I’ve never briefed, but I’m told it’s all visual. It’s the graph, the picture of the map that makes the wheels start to turn.”

“You go in there, you make the best presentation possible in the way you think most likely to succeed in getting inside the head of the president,” he added. “The problem is, there are times where I don’t see connections between the workings of the fact people — and it’s not just intel, it could be the FBI or the Department of Justice.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • On Too Embarrassed to Ask, also hosted by Kara Swisher, we answer the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara.

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