Wednesday, March 2, 2016


     As a member of the Association Of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) and author of the “Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster in the Caribbean” spy series, I had the privilege of attending a luncheon with two real-life spymasters: former CIA Case Officer Barry Eisler and former Director of the CIA and NSA, General Michael Hayden.
     The theme of their presentations focused on privacy and surveillance issues in the 21st century and the best strategies America can use to battle ISIS and the threat of radical Islam. The tone of their message was that America is not at war with Muslims and it is our acceptance of them as Americans that frustrates ISIS, Hezbollah and other fanatical transcribers and “misconstruers” of the Muslim religion.
Talking with Barry Eisler
at AFIO luncheon 
     Eisler spoke first. His book, “The God’s Eye View” is a New York Times bestseller. He spent three years in a covert position with the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, then worked as a technology lawyer and startup executive in Silicon Valley and Japan. He earned a black belt at the Kodokan International Judo Center. One of his novels, “Rain Fall”, became a movie in Japan. When not writing novels, he actively blogs about torture, civil liberties, and the rule of law.  
     During his talk, Eisler warned about how our leaders manipulate language to mislead us. For example, the Bush and Obama administration used the term “surge” to justify increasing troop deployments in the Middle East. Eisler said a better word would be “escalation.” A “surge” of troops in Iraq, indeed, is an acceleration of American boots on the ground and an intensification of our combat role. He added that the overly-used word “intervention” simply means “war!” and believes our leaders should simply say so.
     It is not surprising that Barry Eisler’s novel, “The God’s Eye View”, reveals forbidden places, programs and conversations inside America’s intelligence agencies. He exposes a real-time war between those who yearn to keep America’s darkest secrets and those who strive to reveal them.
     Next, General Hayden spoke to 70 members of the San Francisco AFIO group. The ex-CIA and NSA Director said America is going through the “Golden Age of SIGINT.” He stressed that, by accepting the religion and culture of moderate Muslims, America remains tamper-proof from the onslaught of ISIS, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda manipulation, persuasion and recruitment. He reminded us that, unlike in other European countries, the average income of American Muslims is above the national average.    

Gen. Hayden autographing his
book for me after AFIO luncheon
     He emphasized that Iran is the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world. Interestingly, in researching the topic of terrorism in the Caribbean for the “Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster in the Caribbean” series, I uncovered state department documents that showed the large extent to which Iran and Hezbollah were entrenched in the tri-border area of South America and in Latin America... at America’s back door.
     General Hayden spoke of the stress that those involved in espionage face on the job and at home. He brought up one example of a Reaper drone pilot who observed a suspect for weeks. The pilot watched where the man lived, watched him kiss his wife and children when he left the house… kind of got to know him personally. Then, one day a “kill order” was issued. He watches the man get into an SUV and drive off. When the target was several hundred meters from his home, the drone pilot blew him to pieces with a Hellfire missile. Incidentally, my research shows many such drone pilots need counseling. It is a job with a high turn-over rate.
     In his book, “Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror”, General Hayden gives a high-level narrative of America’s intelligence agencies and how they combat escalating and forever changing terrorist threats. During his talk, he told us that the Intelligence Community (IC), indeed, must “play to the edge” and get so close to the line that they get chalk dust on their cleats.
     Hayden accepted the awesome responsibility of running both the CIA and NSA in the midst of a shortsighted and uniformed news media and political establishment that criticized him while he kept Americans out of harm’s way. Without spoiling his book, I will tell you it reveals how our intelligence agencies responded to terrorism after 9/11 and how they adapted to the sweeping technological revolution which radical Islam and ISIS exploits and employs. He spoke of how the NSA changed since 9/11 and discussed its controversial terrorist surveillance program that included the acquisition of domestic phone records.
     The luncheon and discussions gave me great ideas for the Corey Pearson spy series. Kudos to the San Francisco chapter of the Association Of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) for sponsoring such an enlightening event!

Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S. writes about the U.S. intelligence community and is a member of the Association Of Former Intelligence Officers. He authors the Corey Pearson, CIA Spymaster in the Caribbean spy series. His opinions are his own and do not represent those of any organization he is a member of. Contact him on the Secure Contact Form.

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