Tables Turned On Former NSA Boss Michael Hayden, As 'Off-The-Record' Call Is Live Tweeted By Train Passenger

from the no-expectation-of-privacy-on-a-train dept

Michael Hayden, former NSA and CIA boss, who famously argued that the only people complaining about NSA surveillance were internet shut-ins who couldn’t get laid, apparently never learned that when you’re in a public place, someone might overhear your phone calls. Entrepreneur and former director Tom Matzzie just so happened to be on the Acela express train from DC to NY when he (1) spotted Hayden sitting behind him and (2) started overhearing a series of “off the record” phone calls with press about the story of the week: the revelations of the NSA spying on foreign leaders. Matzzie did what any self-respecting American would do: live-tweet the calls. During the calls Hayden apparently slammed the Obama administration, while insisting he only be quoted as a “former senior administration official.”

I’m sure Hayden will be happy about this. After all, as I’m sure he’d be the first to argue, he had no expectation of privacy in such a situation, right? In the end, it appears someone in his office spotted the tweets, and alerted Hayden who ended up taking a photo with Matzzie and having a short conversation with him.

A bunch of the tweets are below:

For all the talk from the NSA folks how revealing how we collect phone information will lead terrorists to use other means… the fact that an ex-NSA boss would give such calls in a public place like this makes it pretty clear that even if you know if others eavesdrop on you, and you’re supposedly an “expert” on this stuff, sometimes people just take a chance anyway. And sometimes it doesn’t work so well.

Of course, Hayden’s response to all of this is to blame “liberal activists” for this “bullshit” story, while insisting that Matzzie’s statements about what the calls were about were “terribly wrong.” As if anyone’s going to believe that.

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Comments on “Tables Turned On Former NSA Boss Michael Hayden, As 'Off-The-Record' Call Is Live Tweeted By Train Passenger”

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Ninja (profile) says:

That’s a nice way of “educating” these people on how privacy is necessary. Obviously you can’t expect privacy if you are talking about something in a public place since people will accidentally overhear it but I’m fairly sure that people have other means of having more private conversations (ie: going to a private cabin, texting, e-mailing etc). And there’s the fact that those people don’t know where have you been, with who you are talking, how many times you talked with that person, what’s your relationship with them (one can infer only). The problem comes when you can’t expect such privacy because there are loons recording your communications because of some stupid bogeyman. I don’t think Hayden learned the lesson. But it’s a good example to throw at the NSA fanboys faces.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And it still doesn’t mean a shit because the context may be shared by the participants and the data associated with the call gives nothing but a false positive.

Let’s exercise our imagination: imagine a couple that enjoy doing the pimp/hooker fantasy. He calls her a prostitute and she says she’ll pay with sex for something he paid her. They know they are joking but does simple metadata reveal such context? I don’t think so. This is but one example that’s close to me (I personally do it and I know two more couples that are into it) but I’m sure there are several others where no amount of detail will lead to the context as easily as you imply.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

What if the metadata was far more revealing, intrusive, vague than the actual content ?
What if the content could absolve you but the metadata convicts you ?

Just the metadata is probably more scary than the content.

So you shared a meeting in a coffee shop with a “radical”. GPS metadata told them.
You visited similar “radical” websites. Metadata told them.
You respond to a “radical” on twitter. That damn metadata.

Next thing you know you are part of a web of “radicals”… metadata told them. The content could explain everything. Coffee shop was a coincidence, websites were just you following links to interesting stories or maybe even an accident and the communication on twitter was an argument.

Metadata is seriously bad enough. It is so vague that everyone can be set up for practically anything.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Guy in coffee shop looks up the effects of acid on human decomposition. He then initiates a Skype IM chat with an ex-con who had been jailed for muder with such phrases as “we’ll slaughter the fuckers” and “I can’t wait to see their faces after the acid”.
Metadata and actually going through the IM logs will lead one to suspect that they’re planning a real murder spree.
Nope. Turns out the guy in the coffee shop was a law student, looking up information for his classes; while the chat with his friend was about an online game (pretty sure there must be one by now that has acid in it).

There’s one hypothetical example.

Capt ICE Enforcer says:

No charges needed

Capt ICE Enforcer here,

For all of you wanting charges brought against this man, please sit down and be quiet. The United States was deemed a war zone and with the indefinite detention without trial all I have to do is walk up with a SWAT team and have him detained. Why waste time having trial. After all, it will provide him a warm fuzzy knowing we care

Larry (profile) says:

Common sense and arrogance

Anybody in government, business, or private life should know that there are things you don’t talk about in public.

My wife was riding the train to work one day and sat near two people talking about how they were going to con another department into taking on a project that they had messed up far beyond recovery. Three hours later she walked into a meeting where they were to plan the procedures for transferring the project to her department. She said the look on their faces when she was introduced as a senior manager was priceless. They did not take the project.

Hayden knows the rules. I guess a case of legendary arrogance is what is required to lead this countries intelligence agencies. That and the assumption that you never have to pay for your sins.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


One would think that Hayden would understand the basics of discretion. It’s not just the chance that some random person will overheard and tweet stuff.

I once knew a person whose full time job was to take the commuter flights into and out of silicon valley and listen to the conversations around him to try and gain inside information about what high tech companies were up to. I can’t imagine this is a practice unique to high-tech espionage.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Astonishing

I have to disbelieve you on the basis that the paranoid TSA would have flagged your friend long ago, due to the insane number of flights he would have had to have taken.

No wait, a re-read now means I believe you. You said you once knew, past tense. This means your friend was picked up and imprisoned for the heinous crime of travelling by plane too many times and hasn’t seen a human being since then. I actually wouldn’t be surprised. What with Gitmo and this
(long story short, a man was picked up on a DUI and then literally forgotten about in solitary confinement for years)…

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