Michael Hayden Claims State Secrecy Is Just Like Personal Privacy

from the unclear-on-the-concept dept

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?

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Comments on “Michael Hayden Claims State Secrecy Is Just Like Personal Privacy”

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Rikuo (profile) says:

“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. “

Google and Yahoo are ISPs? Google is technically, with its Fiber offering, but that’s only in Kansas at the moment. If we ignore Yahoo, then is Hayden here saying he knows the terrorists are using Google Fiber, and thus, roughly where they are located physically?

Anonymous Coward says:

There is a difference between private actions done by an individual within their own private settings on their own behalf vs the actions of a tax funded government acting on behalf of the public. When acting on behalf of the public there is no expectation of privacy. I have a right to know how the government spends my money and such is not the private business of the government (or government employees / public representatives) receiving that money.

Anonymous Coward says:

If state secrecy is just like personal privacy then he must have no qualms about us learning about it – all the nsas own trash rhetoric can be thrown back in their face, if they have nothing to hide they have nothing to fear. If the state secrets that are being revealed result in more safety for the citizens (i.e. their rights are preserved) then he can’t question it, etc.

out_of_the_blue says:

Citation needed: "somewhere around half of Congress". Pffft!

You appear to be implying that you believe the one failed vote (on whatever alleged reduction of NSA) indicates such support level. But if you don’t know that votes in Congress are lined up in advance to produce such misleading numbers — with some even given permission to vote contrary so can later claim false credibility as being against it — and ONLY voted on IF the outcome is near certain — then you really are a naive Pollyanna.

In fact, overwhelming majority voted for the NSA regime, Patriot Act, NDAA, DHS, and every other Orwellian police state program, just as voted for the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (besides Vietnam). It’s SOLID support for the surveillance state: anything to contrary is sheer theater.

This is again just utterly useless diversion from the known crimes.

I’m not going to for a second believe that NSA is in the slightest crippled by these revelations. And definitely not going to bother with shouting matches between talking heads.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘when Gellman tried to highlight some of the misleading claims, Hayden got increasingly angry and defensive, even shouting down Gellman at one point’

this is exactly what happens when someone is in the wrong, knows they are in the wrong, wont admit they are in the wrong and wants to pass the blame to anyone and everyone they can! it shows a complete lack of security of the person concerned (and it wasn’t meant to be a play on words, but…..)

Anonymous Coward says:

“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”

Bull. This happens all the time in the US. Let’s stop bad policy here before we become the hypocrites of the world. Maybe then we’ll have a little bit of a reputation to use for “policing” the world.

Our current version of “policing” the world is just about the same as policing in our current country. Stop and Frisk, bully, killing a few people who don’t go with the flow, asserting our will and asserting our authority wherever and whenever we want (“resisting arrest”/”disorderly conduct”)…

Anonymous Coward says:

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 dunno – I call bullshit.

Hayden, if you really want us to believe your fake “outrage” then apply this to anyone leaving their government positions for those cushy “consulting” jobs.


Anonymous Coward says:

Hayden has no leg to stand on and he knows it. He’s trying to justify the unjustifiable. Any attack that disrupts questions that are awkward for him to answer is why he uses the standard tactic of interruption to attempt to silence those uncomfortable questions by shouting down others. It is simply easier than saying something in defense that will later be caught for the falsehoods they are.

All I am seeing here is more of the same. Don’t ask questions because we want to continue to do what we are doing with no oversight and very little control.

The public has already reached it’s opinion on this. A recent poll put it at nearly 80% on the disapproval scale saying that the NSA had exceeded and over stepped it’s bounds by their estimation.

Wake up Hayden, it’s no longer acceptable and no longer defensible. Whether the agency or you like it or not, there is coming some boundaries that are going to be set on what you can or can not do.

The public has learned the same thing time and again. Given authority to do something new, it will be abused time and again by government.

Anonymous Coward says:


The secrecy of the government being undermined is a red herring. If you weren’t engaging in activity that is specifically forbidden by the Constitution, then you can complain about the secrecy of the government being undermined and I feel pretty confident that they vast majority of Americans would support you in that if that was the case, but it’s not.

Colin Cromwell says:

This shouldn't be a surprise

After all, we’re talking about Michael Hayden. While he was the head of the NSA he was asked whether or not the 4th amendment contained the phrase ‘probable cause’ and after saying ‘if there?s any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it?s the Fourth’ he said it did not contain ‘probable cause’.

Anonymous Coward says:

I've seen this before...

I do a fair bit of consultancy… IT roll-outs (small & large), tech support, anything really – and usually I get called in because there’s a problem or a solution that can’t for found for some aspect of the business. When the contractor is politely asked a number of questions as to why this, why that (software choices, missing hardware, overcharging, time-delays, inept security … the list goes on) the “typical” response is (in order, over days or weeks):

1. Try to swamp the client (usually totally non-IT savy) with techno-babble/jargon, change the topic, not answer the actual question and not address the actual problem.
2. Make up out-and-out lies
3. Attack my integrity / Threaten me / Spam me etc
4. Get angry, loud, make accusations (bully tactics)
5. Threaten the client (eg not releasing domains that should never have been in their control – withholding emails being routed through their own mail server and threatening to delete them) / (even attack the client)

These “guys” are always incompetent, but know enough to sweet-talk and charm their way into doing a cr*p job for excessive amounts of money, and when some-one exposes them Steps 1-5 above ensue.

To date, not a single one has received their money in full, because to date, all my clients have refused to pay the full amount owed, deducted my expenses, removed the excessive charges and then told them that if they want any more, that they will go to an independent tribunal where they will present the information and abide by any ruling. At this point, the original contractor refuses and accepts the fact.

My point is, more about the methodology/steps these bullies use when exposed. They can’t reason, they rant, they try to sow disinformation, they try to slander?/libel/demean the accusers … by now, I can always pick them up at Step 1 .. its a a dead giveaway.

LvngBrr says:

I disagree

I disagree with the editorial voice of the article. Without going into detail, here is how I feel about one paragraph:

“Talk about your false equivalencies. Privacy for individuals, concerning private actions, is a basic right. Secrecy for governments is not.”

That’s fine but irrelevant to the question of whether the simile is valid, and the simile is valid.

“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.”

Uh, yeah, golly, except for that, which is the entire point.

“Privacy is something that can be infringed upon. Secrecy, not so.”

Clearly this is false. If we find out something that was secret, then we infringed on the secrecy. I’m not sure what you meant, like it can’t be infringed because it’s not a “right” or something? Fine, okay, but again that’s irrelevant.

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