Syria nuclear facility
Syria nuclear facility Photo by Reuters / Archive
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The secrecy surrounding the attack on the nuclear plant in eastern Syria in September 2007 was justified only for the period immediately after the operation, according to the CIA head at the time, Gen. Michael Hayden. That secrecy had been meant to save President Bashar Assad from embarrassment that could have provoked him to retaliate.

Hayden's comments, published in a journal on intelligence published by the CIA, reflect a view different from that of Israel, which has not commented on the attack, widely attributed to its air force.

Before being appointed CIA head by George W. Bush, Hayden was a senior officer in the U.S. Air Force and head of the National Security Agency - the main signals-intelligence service in the United States. He resigned last February after President Barack Obama turned down his request to have his tenure extended by six months.

Some analysts were critical of the CIA's release of information related to the air strike, and argued that the main motivation was for the organization to show an intelligence success following the failure to prevent the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

In the interview, Hayden was asked to explain his support for exposing the role of intelligence in unveiling the presence of the Syrian reactor.

"It was a very complex political problem," he said. "First of all, when we became aware of it, it became very important to keep it secret. Arguably secret, because it had to be dealt with in a way that didn't create a war in the Middle East. And the more public it became, the more difficult it would be for the Syrians to act responsibly. So no question that it needed to be kept secret.

"But after a time, after the facility had been destroyed, there were two lines working - because you had two bad actors here, the Syrians and the North Koreans," Hayden said.

"With the Syrians, you needed to keep it secret, otherwise they might do something stupid if they were publicly embarrassed. With the North Koreans on the other hand, we were moving in the direction of a new arrangement with regard to things 'nuclear,' including proliferation."

In the dispute between the two approaches, it appears that Hayden was right and those who advocated secrecy were wrong. Nearly three years after the strike and two years and three months since the CIA officially released the information, Syria did not do "something stupid" and Assad did not go to war.