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Gen. Michael Hayden and Mike McConnell give their perspectives on terrorism a decade after 9/11.

As veterans of the intelligence community, former CIA chief Michael Hayden and former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell have become sought-out experts on terrorism, especially after the raid by U.S. Special Forces that killed the world’s most wanted terrorist, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

But in separate speeches at the Potomac Officers Club this past summer, both wise men didn’t rest on their laurels and wasted no time identifying impending issues within the intelligence community, including the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, the uprisings in the Arab world and the cybersecurity threat.

The killing of bin Laden by a team of U.S. Special Forces had taken place only weeks before Hayden’s speech, but he began his remarks with strong rhetoric on Iran.

“Iran is right now the greatest state sponsor of terrorism in the world,” he said, “and I am convinced in my lifetime that Iran is committed to developing a nuclear capability.”

Iran has a near-nonexistent relationship with the U.S. and a history of turbulent relations with its own people. The 2009 re-election of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparked the so-called Green Revolution, which evoked protests and resulted in civilian deaths, rapes and beatings.

The recent uprisings in the Middle East echo the Green Revolution. The difference between the Iranian protests and the Arab Spring, though, was the element of surprise. Many observers expected Iranian civilians to oppose Ahmadinejad; before the election, his popularity had hit an all-time low.

But the speed with which the Arab Spring’s protests and marches toppled two North African dictators took much of the world and the intelligence community — himself included, Hayden said — by surprise.

The Egyptian revolution “skipped” the normal process of political reform, he said. “It usually takes a long time to get a million people to do anything,” Hayden said.

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were aided by Facebook and Twitter, the general noted. Other factors that led to the Arab Spring included the rise of an Egyptian youth movement, a disconnected and nonresponsive government and rising unemployment, he said.

Still, while all the flammable ingredients were there, it would be nearly impossible to anticipate with certainty what would set the society ablaze, he suggested.

“How do you predict something like the Egypt revolution?” Hayden asked. “It’s like a spontaneous combustion. How do you inject predictability for something that’s inherently unpredictable?”

Similarly unpredictable has been the number of hackings, data breaches and cyber threats individuals and corporations face today. A hot topic among government agencies and policymakers, Hayden stressed the need for a better-defined cybersecurity policy.

Meanwhile, former DNI Mike McConnell’s speech went a step further, including his five predictions on cyber issues. “We are going to talk about cybersecurity until we are blue in the face, but we are not going to do anything,” he grimly predicted.

McConnell also posited that the U.S. will face a catastrophic event that will likely lead to an overreaction by the government, something he said is common when the state faces a crisis.

He noted the crisis will lead to a change in the government’s role, as it does every 50 years when a new technology transforms business.

“A new technology changes society, gets powerful, impacts society and then has a negative impact,” he said.

McConnell said the history of technology tends to repeat itself and used the Industrial Revolution as an example. He said modern society is in the maturity phase of the IT Revolution.

According to McConnell, the event that causes the government to overreact will result in regulation in the form of high-level domain names such as dot-secure, due to a need for securing banking, electrical power and transportation.

“When something goes wrong in the infrastructure industry, it impacts a significant number of our citizens,” he said.

McConnell said the creation of the high-level domain of dot-secure will resemble the dot-mil domain.

He also predicted the eventual creation of a so-called Department of Cyber, led by a cabinet secretary who will coordinate cybersecurity policy across the various special interests of the government.

Similar to battling adversaries in cyberspace, McConnell said the key to fighting terrorism is smart policies.

“The U.S. is at a critical time policywise,” he said, adding that U.S. foreign and international policy affects even the threat of domestic, or homegrown, terrorism.

“I think if we get our policy right, I think we can tamp this down to some extent,” he said.

— Aquala Bogan