Former NSA and CIA boss Michael Hayden has a way of not just being wrong and misleading about the intelligence community whenever he opens his mouth, but he's frequently obnoxious about it. That was very much on display last night when Hayden got to debate reporter Barton Gellman at Duke
. Gellman, of course, is one of the three early reporters (along with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras) who had direct access to Ed Snowden and got initial documents directly from him.
As you watch the debate, you see that Gellman was calm and assured, even as Hayden made a bunch of highly questionable to downright misleading and insulting claims -- and when Gellman tried to highlight some of the misleading claims, Hayden got increasingly angry and defensive, even shouting down Gellman at one point.
But there were a few whoppers from Hayden, including this claim:
There are necessary secrets. Our society recognizes privacy or secrecy for a variety of institutions. We do priest/penitent. We do lawyer/client. We do husband/wife. I mean, we recognize that for the greater good, somethings need to be kept out of the public domain. Those are more in the sense of personal privacy. But privacy to an individual is what secrecy is to a state. Both are necessary and both can be abused. Fully aware, alright, that both can be abused.
Talk about your false equivalencies. Privacy for individuals, concerning private actions, is a basic right. Secrecy for governments is not. The two things are not similar in any way other than that they involve content not known by the public. Other than that, the two concepts are quite different. Privacy is something that can be infringed upon. Secrecy, not so.
Even worse, while Hayden is right that both privacy and secrecy can be "abused," the abuses are wholly different situations. When privacy is "abused," it often means violating
someone's privacy (i.e., the things Michael Hayden did when he ran the warrantless wiretapping program under George W. Bush). When secrecy
is abused, it means that the government is keeping things secret that should be public (i.e., like when Michael Hayden kept it secret that he was tapping phone calls without a warrant). In short, yes, both can be abused, but it seems that it's always the government doing the abusing.
Elsewhere, Hayden made a number of other ridiculous claims, including repeatedly slamming Ed Snowden, falsely claiming that he only went to work for the NSA because of a "preconceived notion" that he wanted to expose (which goes against what every profile of Snowden has said), and not because he "discovered something which offended him." Again, that's not supported by the record, but if Hayden wants to tar and feather Snowden, I guess you'd expect that. But then he pretends that Snowden didn't reveal anything that did or should concern anyone at all.
The agencies weren't doing anything illegal. They weren't doing anything unconstitutional. They were just doing things that offended him [Snowden].
Well, that, and somewhere around half of Congress, a very large percentage of the American public and an even larger percentage of the rest of the world. Also, given how many people in Congress have now argued that what the NSA was doing was
out of bounds with the law -- and multiple people inside the US government and elsewhere around the globe have pointed out how important these revelations have been -- it would appear that claiming that these were things that merely offended Snowden is, again, not actually supported by any evidence other than the warped mind of Michael Hayden.
Later in the talk, he argued that Gellman's revealing PRISM was "the most destructive" revelation that's been made so far, because, Hayden claims, terrorists all used to love using Yahoo and Google, and now they don't.
Many legitimate intelligence targets -- we learned two days ago that Yahoo and Google are [shakes head] WERE the internet providers of choice for terrorists world wide.
This is difficult to believe. In fact, it's impossible to believe. First off, it's been widely reported that any serious terrorist group has long known not to use things like American company email systems, because they're being monitored. Second, if the revelations here made it more difficult for terrorists to communicate, isn't that a good thing? Don't we want
to disrupt their communications and make it harder for them to plot?
Hayden tried hard (very hard) to make the case that we lived in this wonderful
world in which "bad guys" (which he implies are easy to distinguish from everyone else) used American communications systems, so we had this NSA nirvana in that it was super easy to spy on them... until now. He even angrily shouts at Gellman at one point (about 55:50 in the video):
Hayden: This was the most productive source of communications intelligence that NSA had. Your privacy was not involved -- other than the fact that you use Google or Yahoo. But your emails, your accounts, were not the ones being accessed. It was...
Gellman: No, they weren't the ones being targeted.
Hayden: No no. I chose my word... NO!!! I chose my words carefully. YOUR ACCOUNTS were not being accessed. We'll get to this in a minute. This was foreign intelligence. It was a wondrous source of foreign intelligence, made possible by the accident of history and technology, that put most of the world's web traffic inside the United States. [Waves hands at Gellman] Why in God's name would you want to make that public? Why in the world would you want to tell all of these people that we're targeting that 'if you use an American email service, the NSA has the ability -- without working really hard to collect packets on the move out there on the world wide web -- to go and access this information.' That's a body blow for those people who are trying to protect you.
That is... misleading at best. Again, most "foreign targets" that matter already knew better than to use those services. But, more importantly, all of that presupposes that the NSA is good at just spying on "the bad guys" and avoiding the rest of us "good guys." But there's little evidence to support that claim. As Gellman points out in response, the NSA collects tens of millions of content from Americans which it can then search through -- even if we're not "bad guys." Second, it assumes that everyone should be happy that the NSA can spy on just about anyone without too much trouble. Many of us believe that the job of the world is not to make life easier on the NSA at all. Third, it assumes that this is not an issue for public debate -- something that a majority of the public has rejected. Basically, it's the viewpoint of an insider's insider.
There was a lot more in the talk, including an audience Q&A. The audience questions were definitely more critical for Hayden. The first question laid out Hayden's own activities in the wake of 9/11, including the warrantless wiretapping, and asked Hayden directly why he
hasn't been prosecuted yet. Hayden claims that he did everything "within his current authorities" and told President Bush things that he could do if given authority
, and said that his lawyers at NSA agreed that the President could give him that authority -- and that the FISA court had agreed that the President had such authorities. And he calls the revelation of the warrantless wiretapping "a mighty kerfuffle." And then claims that the FISA Amendments Act further legitimized
his own warrantless wiretapping -- which is a... unique interpretation of the law. Gellman, in response, adds back in many of the parts that Hayden skipped over, including the DOJ pointing out that the program was unlawful, and Hayden deciding to move forward with the program anyway.
At the end, a woman asks Hayden how he can justify spying on our "greatest allies" such as Germany. Hayden is somewhat dismissive of this question, pointing out, more or less, that he's not concerned about spying on foreigners, because they're foreigners and that's what he's supposed to do. Now, he's technically correct under the law. And then he tries to explain why it's okay to spy on Angela Merkel by using an example of her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, and the well-known controversy over his helping Gazprom secure a pipeline deal
in his final days of office, and then accepting a job with Gazprom soon after. Hayden suggests he's clearly offended by a public official taking a high paying job with a company helped by his connections soon after leaving office:
I think a legitimate question is whether that's really legitimate statecraft, or something different? And I think American policy makers might want to know. And therefore we collect intelligence against that for that intelligence need.
Of course, that suggests that as long as there's anything that policy makers might want to know about, then it's okay to spy on anyone. That seems questionable. Also, given that Hayden himself, upon leaving office, took a lucrative job with the Chertoff Group, a company that clearly benefits from his and others' ties to government, is that really
the best example that Hayden wants to roll out there?