Former NSA Chief Says Administration Should Ignore The Public And Leave The NSA Alone

from the the-public-is-too-stupid-to-know-what's-good-for-it dept

Former NSA head Michael Hayden’s (presumably unpaid) goodwill tour on behalf of the Agency-Most-Likely-To-Go-Rogue continues. Following up a memorable interview with CBS News in which he called Ed Snowden a “traitor” and ignored questions about the legality of installing exploits in computer hardware and pushing for adoption of compromised encryption methods, Hayden stopped in to speak with USA Today.

In this particular spin attempt, Hayden spoke up against the recommendations of the administration’s task force charged with reviewing the NSA’s activities and programs. Hayden’s opposition to the recommendations is far less surprising than the recommendations themselves, which were surprisingly substantive.

Hayden first goes wrong when explaining why the NSA shouldn’t have to change.

“Right now, since there have been no abuses and almost all the court decisions on this program have held that it’s constitutional, I really don’t know what problem we’re trying to solve by changing how we do this,” he said, saying the debate was sparked after “somebody stirred up the crowd.” That’s a reference to Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia.

Saying there have been “no abuses” is clearly untrue. The agency itself has admitted to several abuses (although the NSA frames them as errors, rather than deliberate misuse of the system) and others have leaked information on others the agency hasn’t been particularly forthcoming about. (LOVEINT, anyone?)

Hayden also applies a bit of misdirection by narrowing the focus to the Section 215 program. There are many other programs that are at least as dubious in terms of constitutionality. But this one is the safe pick — the one that relies on the Third Party Doctrine and the fact that it’s been almost impossible until just recently for anyone to be granted standing to bring a lawsuit against the government for civil liberties violations committed by the agency.

Lastly, trying to dismiss Snowden as a rabble rouser makes the implicit suggestion that everything the NSA does is perfectly normal, legal and no big deal. If it “looks bad,” it’s only because a former analyst somehow made it look bad by exposing the inner workings. In other words, the problem isn’t the agency’s programs — it’s the easily-ired public.

And as far as dealing with the public’s reaction to these leaks goes, Hayden’s suggestion to the administration is to ignore the outrage and do what’s “right” (in the eyes of the agency).

“Here I think it’s going to require some political courage,” said Hayden, 68, a retired Air Force general whose service in the nation’s top intelligence posts gives him particular standing. “Frankly, the president is going to have to use some of his personal and political capital to keep doing these things…”

“President Obama now has the burden of simply doing the right thing […] And I think some of the right things with regard to the commission’s recommendations are not the popular things. They may not poll real well right now. They’ll poll damn well after the next attack, all right?”

According to Hayden, the NSA is right and the public is wrong, even if it doesn’t realize it. Obama and those that follow him will just need to trust the agency and not worry too much about the public’s opinion. Hayden says the government needs to make the tough decision to protect the surveillance status quo. If the administration chooses to roll things back, and another 9/11 occurs because of this (this is very specious reasoning), rescinding these restrictions will suddenly poll extremely well, at least according to Hayden.

But that’s an assumption that only the NSA defenders make. Somehow they’ve arrived at the conclusion that the public will always clamor for increased security and fewer civil liberties in the wake of a terrorist attack. This is based on the prevailing perception of the public’s attitude shortly after the 9/11 attacks. But the recent attack in Boston didn’t result in citizens asking for more cameras, cops and pervasive surveillance. In fact, many Bostonians were shocked that the city was so quick to effectively put the city under martial law and perform house-to-house searches for the one of the suspects. The only people asking for more government intrusion were government officials and law enforcement heads already prone to pushing for greater power and expanded surveillance.

Moving on from these baffling assertions, Hayden then rejects nearly every other recommendation from the presidential commission. He claims Section 215 data would be more “secure” and “private” if stored by the NSA, rather than held by private companies. He also stated the agency shouldn’t be forced to seek court orders before querying the collection, saying this would “reverse” changes made post-9/11. This, of course, ignores the fact that the agency had to do exactly that (court orders for searching the database) after it screwed up the Section 215 program so thoroughly FISC judge Reggie Walton nearly shut the whole thing down.

Hayden, like many NSA defenders, increasingly appears to be living in an alternate reality where the leaks and documents freed via lawsuits against the government haven’t exposed a great deal of agency abuse and misuse of its power and data collections. Each successive revelation furthers the notion that the agency has used several decades of darkness to insert itself into worldwide communications in ways that no one charged with oversight would have reasonably imagined. This makes all the claims about legality and protecting the country ring hollow. The agency’s capabilities far surpass what’s necessary to achieve its aims, and exceed what any rational person would believe to be protected by law.

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Comments on “Former NSA Chief Says Administration Should Ignore The Public And Leave The NSA Alone”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: All sounds like a racket...

Actually, he’s using typical debating techniques.
The quote you are saying I would consider a classical “straw man
The technique is used by reversing the argument of questionable legality, and turning it into a debate on public safety which the question was not originally about.
His attacks on Snowden are also “ad hominem“. Instead of questioning the substance of his revelations, he’s insisting on attacking his character.

Personally, I would suggest that Hayden takes some basic debating courses in High School, before he goes before another public audience.

McGreed (profile) says:

Re: All sounds like a racket...

And the most scary thought is that they might actually arrange for an ‘attack’ if we manage to get them shut down, just to be able to go “Hey! Now you see, we need NSA to protect us like this!”.

And before someone says that is a paranoid thought to have, yeah I might have agreed…before. But now? Seeing all the shit they are willing to do to keep their power and control?

Anonymous Coward says:

I notice in all the pro-NSA spouts not one admits nor recognizes that the NSA has gone way, way, beyond it’s purpose, mandate, and can not remotely admit it’s failings. It has hidden itself behind a wall of secrecy.

Political courage is indeed needed to terminate the abuses of the security/police state. Honestly I don’t think these politicians have it in them. That is unless they each feel personally threatened with their jobs. Short of that, I think it will all be attempts at feel good. With nothing substantial happening to actually do what will be spouted as taking care of the problem.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

The question that is never answered

The spy agencies and their supporters keep asserting that we should just blindly trust them. My question, and one that they never even begin to address is this:

Why should we trust them? They have a long history of proven abuse, stretching back for as long as these agencies have existed. What has changed now that justifies any level of trust whatsoever?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The question that is never answered

Sadly John, as I’m sure you’ve seen average US citizens aren’t that clued on history. Here’s a clip, sadly, from the college I graduated from: Knowledge of the Holocaust

Maybe it’s just me, but if they don’t know about WWII than I wouldn’t expect them to know of the Church Committee and Watergate.

JustSomeGuy says:

I’m almost certain that one of the famous speeches in the early days of the USA cited the gub’ment as “of the people, for the people” or something like that. So the Administration ignoring the public seems an … interesting … viewpoint.

It would be more sensible for the Administration to ignore the spooks and leave the public alone (the public they’re supposed to represent).

Anonymous Coward says:

If we use Hayden's reading comprehension skills...

To interpret his statements the same way he interpreted Snowden’s open letter to Brazil, didn’t Hayden just admit that the US government was behind 9/11 and that if these programs were scaled back then they will have to plan another attack in order to get support to reinstate them?

Anonymous Coward says:

Hayden defense

The NSA doesn’t need to collect dat on all Americans. They can simply subpoena the data, which takes nothing but probable cause like flight students that can’t land or a Russian call about radicals in Boston,

I would feel better about the NSA if they had showed some ability to connect dots in Boston when given a tip, but we see nothing from them. If you’re looking for pin in small haystack, why would you want to dump a trainload of hay on top of the haystack but they want the biggest digital haystack in history. They are drowning data, unable to perform their mission and have the audacity to tell the president to ignore recommendations or there may be another attack on this nice country you got here.

David says:

What's really scary here:

According to Hayden, the NSA is right and the public is wrong, even if it doesn’t realize it.

And the scary thing about this is that there is no right or wrong regarding what can or cannot result in less or more security.

Instead, there is a mandate by the public to the NSA to do its job according to criteria put into laws in a process supposed to express the will of the public.

It is clear that the NSA has not merely gone rogue, but they no longer even have in sight who they are working for under what restraints. They try to game their authority and paymaster.

There is not really much one can do except dismiss the whole bunch of traitors trying to establish an enemy bulwark against the constitution and the will of the American people, and try the responsible persons for treason.

They are aiding and comforting the enemy, consisting of themselves and the terrorists whom they give perfect reason to hate the U.S.A.

And not because the U.S.A. is the land of “the brave and the free”, but because it works to abolish the brave and the free.

Anonymous Coward says:

Missed Opportunity

“They may not poll real well right now. They’ll poll damn well after the next attack, all right?”

That’s too bad. The interviewer could have asked him when he was planning to launch the next attack.

That would have been extremely helpful information. Then again, I suppose he would just claim that information was restricted due to National Security.

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