Michael Hayden Calls Clemency For Snowden 'Outrageous,' Says It Sends 'Wrong Message' To Potential Whistleblowers

from the he-and-Peter-King-should-recuse-themselves-from-the-'debate' dept

We’ve already seen one reaction to the New York Times’ call for clemency for whistleblower Ed Snowden. That one came courtesy of the terminally-perturbed Rep. Peter King, a man who cares so much for this country that he believes Snowden should be imprisoned for “appeasing terrorists.” Calling Snowden a traitor only gains you so much political traction these days, but King’s in no hurry to give up his antagonistic calls for Snowden’s head, even when his assertions of “terrorist appeasement” clash with his own background as a terrorist appeaser.

Another talking head who can’t seem to find a single good word to say about Snowden’s leaks is former NSA boss Michael Hayden. His unwavering defense of the NSA would perhaps be admirable if it didn’t suggest that his position at the Chertoff Group is dependent on an absurdly healthy surveillance state and a never ending “War on Terror.”

[If you’re not already familiar with the Chertoff Group, this blurb from its “About” page will give you an indication of how Hayden’s defense of all things NSA is intertwined with his “private sector” income:

As Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff worked closely with America’s most experienced intelligence experts and security professionals. Now a select group of them have joined him to form The Chertoff Group.

The Chertoff Group provides business and government leaders with the same kind of high-level, strategic thinking and diligent execution that have kept the American homeland and its people safe since 9/11.

Michael Hayden is just one of the former government officials employed by the Chertoff Group. Many other members are just as connected to government security and intelligence agencies. VP and co-founder Chad Sweet served as Chief of Staff in the DHS. Principal Jayson Ahern? 33 years in the US Customs and Border Protection, a division of the DHS. Richard Falkenrath? Adjunct Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security at the Council on Foreign Relations. Jay Cohen? Chief of Naval Research. Michael Weatherford? Served as the Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity with the DHS. Larry Castro? NSA Security Service Representative to the DHS.

The list goes on and on.]

So, this is why Hayden’s statements on Snowden and the leaked documents resemble those of someone still employed by the NSA. That’s because, for all intents and purposes, he pretty much is. His current employer’s future prosperity cannot be disentangled from the NSA and other, equally-overreaching branches of the government.

Back to the point at hand. The New York Times strongly suggested Ed Snowden be given clemency for exposing the NSA’s abuses and overreach. In an interview Thursday, Hayden had this to say in response.

[M]ichael Hayden, who served as NSA director and CIA director under the last administration, called the suggestion of clemency for Snowden “outrageous.” He predicted any efforts to grant Snowden clemency would be met with significant resistance from U.S. intelligence officials. He pointed to the campaign on behalf of Jonathan Pollard, an Israeli spy who stole secrets for the Jewish state in the early 1980s when he worked as an analyst for the U.S. Navy. “There is a lot of push to give clemency for Jonathan Pollard, who did far less damage than Snowden and the U.S. intelligence community has been adamant against clemency for Pollard,” Hayden said. He added that giving clemency to Snowden would send the message to future leakers: “If you are going to do this, make sure you steal enough secrets to bargain for clemency.”

The suggestion isn’t that “outrageous.” Snowden’s leaks have prompted some normally-complacent politicians to reexamine the NSA. Several pieces of legislation have been introduced in response and the support for these crosses party lines. These excesses, which trace back even before the 9/11 attacks (but increased exponentially shortly thereafter) are finally in “danger” of being reined in. The NSA, and Michael Hayden, have always defended the agency’s actions by pointing at the “rigorous oversight” of the House and Senate. The agency’s defenders resent the fact that its previously (deliberately) underinformed “oversight” is now privy to the ugly reality of the NSA’s programs and is attempting to (finally) curb its power.

Hayden points to Pollard’s situation as being comparable when it really isn’t. Pollard sold secrets to another country. Snowden gave his documents to the public. Most people can distinguish a spy from a whistleblower. Hayden, apparently, is not one of them. He follows this up by claiming granting Snowden clemency would just encourage whistleblowers to grab massive amounts of documents as bargaining chips. That claim is similarly weak.

First and foremost, this administration has sent a clear message to whistleblowers over the last five years: keep your head down and shut up. The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. Anyone hoping to blow the whistle under this administration might as well grab all the documents they can because they’re going to end up being prosecuted anyway, no matter what “safeguards” are built into the system. The system sets up whistleblowers to fail. Taking the “proper” path just gets you rerouted, stonewalled and finally, flushed from the system.

Hayden believes we can’t show Snowden any sort of mercy without encouraging others to follow in his footsteps. He may think this hardline is a necessity to ensure the nation’s security, but what it really says is that those defending this agency (and others operating in the same sphere) know there’s a whole lot of deep, dark secrets they’d rather not share with the American public. This is a problem with the NSA, not a problem with Snowden or the agency’s many detractors. If the agency (through mouthpieces like Gen. Keith “I can’t think of another way to do this” Alexander) can’t find a way to protect the nation without carving huge holes out of the public’s civil liberties, it’s only for a lack of trying. It’s never had to find another way because it was given free rein to accomplish its goals by uninformed oversight, broad executive orders and a compliant court system.

Granting Snowden clemency would be a step in the direction of contrition — a small admission of the government’s betrayal of its constituents. If the legislators working to rein in the agency truly want to change the system, they need to persuade the executive branch to drop its plans to shoot the messenger. The problems are of the NSA’s own making. Punishing the man who finally said, “this is enough” will just allow the “business as usual brigade” to increase the speed at which the surveillance state status quo is restored.

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Comments on “Michael Hayden Calls Clemency For Snowden 'Outrageous,' Says It Sends 'Wrong Message' To Potential Whistleblowers”

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Anonymous Coward says:

should be imprisoned for “appeasing terrorists.”

If ‘appeasing terrorists’ is a basis for imprisonment then I wonder what should happen when the terrorist Osama Bin Laden had claimed that acts of terror would continue until the US military presence in Saudi Arabia ended.

Was the US military then leaving the magical Kingdom of Saudi Arabia appeasement?

Sam says:

Re: Re:

more than appease Bin Laden’s family, the US govt, especially the Bush family worked very closely with the Bin Laden’s, giving them money for business ventures and staying at their estates when visiting the region. The US has also been directly involved in aiding terrorist organizations through the ISI (Pakistani intelligence) and through training al queda fighters in Turkey and Saudi Arabia to aide the cause of certain extremist Syrian rebels. Not to mention how we helped Sadam use banned chemical weapons by providing intelligence. Make no mistake, the US govt. is the biggest terrorist group out there

Anonymous Coward says:

The NSA is very much afraid of what’s been exposed and where that leads. If they were smart they would have long ago admitted to do these things and it would have all blown over and they would have been back in business. Because they have lied at every step of the way to everyone including the congressional oversight committee, there is no going back now from having to reign in the NSA and it’s overboard reach.

The question now comes down to how much they will be reigned in, not if. Here again the NSA shows it’s fears, desperately trying to justify and claim it’s necessary all these programs while at the same time hiding behind national security. Being upfront with the public at the start would not have resulted in the big stink that goes no now.

Having a serious whistle blower program that really worked instead of having one to put the pressure on the whistle blower would have stopped this dead in it’s tracks without the embarrassment the administration and the security apparatus is now going through. Coverup doesn’t allow that which is why the present administration is hell bent on maximizing all charges possible against whistle blowers.

So it all comes in full circle. We are back to the times of Nixon as far as the coverup goes.

Anonymous Coward says:

He added that giving clemency to Snowden would send the message to future leakers: ?If you are going to do this, make sure you steal enough secrets to bargain for clemency.?

NO. It wouldn’t send a message to future leakers – it would be basically an admission that the NSA is out of control and acting outside the limits of the constitution.

THAT’S what he’s afraid of…

TasMot (profile) says:


A huge piece of the argument from the NSA is that if anybody knows what they are doing, then they can’t “protect” us. First, it seems most loud and clear that based on the way they hoover up all of that data about us, then we need mostly protection from them so that they don’t find “something of interest” and pass it on to other agencies to be laundered and used against us.

Second, the police use radar guns and video monitoring, banks use alarm systems and video cameras, and there are many many other ways that everybody knows are being used. How many years has it been know that phones can be tapped? The fact that law enforcement can do something is not necessarily “endangering” anybody. It just seems too bad that they feel that everything they do must be “invisible” to the rest of the world including the people they are supposed to be doing it to protect (or it seems to peek at).

They need to spend more time letting the bad guys know they are being watched and to do some real “threat assessments” to catch the next big move before it happens.

Anonymous Coward says:

so, in essence, he wants governments and corporations etc to be able to do whatever they like, harming whoever they like, destroying friendships with whoever they like, with absolutely no recourse at all! this attitude may be acceptable to him and a few others like him but i bet he and his ilk would be the first to complain and condemn when it happened to them or even if they found out that others were doing the same as them! just because opinions differed!
this sort of behaviour is not acceptable at all. no person, let alone any government should be able to run rough shod over the citizens, regardless of which country we are talking about. if that were the case, we would all be under the same people, using the same rules regardless of where we lived. that being the case, why has there ever been any wars, let alone 2 world wars? we may as well have done no fighting and saved millions of lives!

out_of_the_blue says:

User-generated content IS much better. At least when min.e

Sheesh. How DOES this site get any view with re-hashed re-written routine crap?

So, to help him out, here’s yet another complete trouncing of Pirate Mike’s piratey notions:


You kids really ought to take the lesson that stealing content is wrong or at least hazardous.

Items so dull today that my clone seems to have only shown once. — Thanks, fake out_of_the_blue, for keeping my valuable screen name current through Techdirt’s ongoing drivel.

Google. Collecting and collating every bit of you.


That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Ummmm

Which is exactly the point.

It’s the same reason they were trying a while back to determine who is considered a ‘journalist’, and therefor protected by laws that protect journalists; if they can define and determine who does and does not get the protection of the law, then they can ‘protect’ the ones that are doing what they want, while still going after and silencing the ones that aren’t toeing the line and saying what they’ve been told to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Chertoff and back scatter xray machines

Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, chertoff group-represented back scatter xray machines became prevalent after he became head of the DHS. And then, only after questionable – some might say false flag — “terrorist” incidents had laid the ground work for the institution of these in airports.

The security industry is an industry sucking the teat of the government – surveillance and security bought and paid for by those surveilled.

toyotabedzrock (profile) says:

Health insurance and part of the NSA are make work industries.Which is ok except it causes drastic collateral damage to American citizens.

If we accepted this and found work for them or had an actual saftey net that didn’t assume there are jobs out there it would be better for everyone. Less political strife, less violence and more advances that could improve everyones lives.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re:

Health insurance is essential when you’re ill or have an accident, otherwise you’d better be on Medicare or Medicaid or you’re fucked.

NSA, however, provides no prospect of protection, only the promise.

Unless you’ve had a bad experience with a health insurance company… socialized healthcare with private healthcare running alongside it competing on service is the answer. If it works in other countries, why wouldn’t it work in the USA?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Health insurance is essential when you’re ill or have an accident

Only because our medical system is so completely broken.

A better notion would be to fix it so that insurance is only needed for the sorts of things insurance is actually intended for: to cover you when you encounter an exceptional loss. Common and routine medical procedures can be, and should be, affordable to everyone out of pocket. That’s how things were when I was young, it’s how things could be again.

This business about having to have insurance in order to get health care at all is a huge part of what’s wrong with health care in the US.

GEMont (profile) says:

Unleash the hounds of war...

Damn it.
This is simply getting too hairy.
Their terrible PR is failing completely.

I can hear the war drums warming up to pull the country’s attention to the plight of their sons an daughters lining up to go to war.

The public already knows too much and something must be done to distract the scrutiny now falling on the NSA.

Don’t know where, but I know the boys have to start one really soon, or a lot of crimes and secret deals are going to be exposed to the one group that the US Fed does not want in possession of such awful facts – the US Public.

War is their only recourse – the only thing that will turn the public’s attention away form this iceberg of a crime.

Should be less than 5 weeks from now to be effective.
I wonder what country wins this lottery…
I wonder if the Chinese will finance this US war too….

Oh we certainly are living in interesting times.

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