The killing of Osama bin Laden will spur the al-Qaida terror network to back off his grandiose plans for more 9/11-style attacks in favor of more frequent, smaller strikes on easier targets, former U.S. spy chief Michael Hayden forecast Monday.
Hayden, who directed both the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency under President George W. Bush, also emphasized that the smartest way for America to monitor its enemies would be to keep targeting aides, not the kingpins directly.
"Let's say someone was trying to spy on the NSA. They would have been silly to target me. I don't use the phone much," Hayden told The AP on the fringe of an intelligence-gathering conference in Ireland.
"My communication's mostly face to face, one on one. No, you should target my secretary. You want to know what's going on? Tap her phone," he said in a phone interview.
Hayden was the main speaker Monday at an annual forum organized by the Mercyhurst College Institute for Intelligence Studies of Erie, Pennsylvania. During the interview he said the West was better off with Osama bin Laden dead than in custody _ even though a living bin Laden represented a potential gold mine of intelligence.
He cautioned that the May 2 killing of the al-Qaida chieftain would speed the terror network's current transition to a higher volume of less sophisticated attacks.
"The common instinct from intelligence officers is that capture is always better than kill. But in this one particular case, even me as a career intelligence officer, I'd say that capturing him (bin Laden) would have been very problematic," Hayden said.
"Bin Laden in American custody would have made almost all Americans, Britons, many others in the West, all of them targets for al-Qaida retribution because we had bin Laden in our custody."
He said evidence emerging from the computer and paper records seized at bin Laden's Pakistan hideaway suggest a commander determined to repeat the epic scale and mass slaughter of early al-Qaida attacks, even though more rigorous security has made such strikes exponentially harder to pull off.
Al-Qaida under bin Laden's direction was "committed to the high-casualty attack against an iconic target: the World Trade Center, embassies in East Africa, multiple airliners over the Pacific or Atlantic," Hayden said.
"Future attacks are going to be more numerous _ but less complex, less well organized, less likely to succeed, and less lethal if they do succeed. I think the killing of bin Laden will accelerate that change."
The 66-year-old Hayden, a retired four-star Air Force general, served as NSA director 1999-2005 and as CIA director 2006-2009. The NSA oversees phone-tapping and other electronic surveillance at home and abroad using the warrantless powers of the Patriot Act, while the CIA seeks to track America's enemies using satellite and drone footage and a network of spies.
The deployment of remotely controlled drone aircraft to monitor suspected al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan and, unofficially, in Pakistan was "an absolute war-winner," he said.
The drone footage delivered "an unblinking stare" that allows intelligence analysts to learn the comings and goings of a Khyber Pass village "as well as their own hometown."
"The drones provide us exquisite intelligence to target individuals who have leadership positions in al-Qaida and to deplete their bench of expertise," he said.
He said planting CIA agents or informers into the center of a terrorist operation was "incredibly slow moving" and meant "working in ambiguous legal areas." He said the ideal informant was someone, such as a message courier, who was privy to a terror cell's activities but not a direct participant.
Hayden said the ethical dilemma of a spy's life could be summed up by the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song: To live outside the law, you must be honest.
"The contradictory point is this. Dishonest people spy for money. On one level, spying is inherently dishonest. You're in the business of getting someone to betray the inner workings of their organization in strict confidence to you," he said.
Hayden said the sharing of anti-terror intelligence among America's myriad security and law-enforcement agencies had to be carefully controlled, partly because improved surveillance and eavesdropping powers have created an overwhelming tsunami of data.
"Most people couch this as good versus evil: Sharing intel is good and restricting it evil. Well, let me tell you, sharing everything can lead to an army private releasing hundreds of thousands of documents onto the internet," he said, referring to last year's mass publication of nearly 500,000 U.S. Army field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan on WikiLeaks.
Hayden rejected any suggestion that the NSA and CIA should merge. He compared the idea to forming a joint team of soccer and cricket players "just because they both use a ball and play on grass."
Mercyhurst College conference, http://globalintelligenceforum.com/