Former NSA Director On Privacy Vs. Security Balance: Would 'Shave Points' Off Effectiveness For 'Public Comfort'

from the meeting-the-public-halfway...-to-a-couple-of-percentage-points dept

The administration, various members of Congress and heads of security agencies all agree: there must be a balance between security and privacy. The defenders of the NSA's actions all seem to agree the balance should swing heavily in the favor of 'security.' Obviously, many of our nation's citizens (and now, many citizens of our allies' nations) disagree.

Obama has said that he "welcomes the debate" on these issues, but so far has done little to dispel the notion that "debate" is just administration-specific slang for "regurgitate talking points and safety v. privacy platitudes."

Does the NSA welcome this debate? It's highly doubtful it even considers there to be room for argument, much less be willing to cede ground to privacy concerns. Every bit of data harvesting and surveillance makes everyone that much "safer," according to its claims. Surely the security of the American people (and the agencies themselves) is more important than the comfort level of the public.

Former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden certainly believes it is. But unlike the current head of the NSA, Hayden is willing to tweak the all-important balance if that will make everyone a tiny bit happier.

Today on Face the Nation, former CIA and National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden was talking to Bob Schieffer about the most recent round of surveillance revelations. Schieffer said it sounded like Hayden thought maybe the government should go public with at least some of the information it’s been keeping secret. Hayden’s reply:

"Here’s how I do the math. I’m willing to shave points off of my operational effectiveness in order to make the American people a bit more comfortable about what it is that we’re doing."
Perhaps Hayden's more willing to "shave points" now that he's no longer in the position to make that call. Anyone can cede anything in a hypothetical situation. It's rather telling that so little is being hypothetically ceded, post facto.

Hayden had much more to say in his Face the Nation interview, most of which sounds like he'd rather still be in the thick of it at the NSA and CIA. He addresses the European reaction to news that the US has been surveilling our overseas allies by deflecting the argument in two different directions.
"Any European who wants to go out and rend their garments with regard to international espionage should look first and find out what their own governments are doing," Hayden said. "Let's keep in mind that in a global telecommunications infrastructure, geography doesn't mean what it used to mean. ...The Internet lacks geography, so I wouldn't draw any immediate conclusions with regard to some of those numbers that have been put out there as to who's being targeted and who isn't."
1. It's OK because everyone else is doing it.
2. It's OK because technology has rendered borders and other geographic designations meaningless.

First, even if everyone else is spying on everyone else, it still doesn't make it acceptable. It just makes everyone look equally bad. And while it may be commonplace behavior for the world's spy agencies, it's hardly going to help smooth things over for the NSA, or the USA, for that matter. As for the second deflection, Hayden seems to be saying that the NSA's actions occur neither at home nor abroad since it relies heavily on internet and telephone surveillance. This allows the terms "domestic" and "foreign" to be used interchangably at the agency's convenience.

Unsurprisingly, Hayden also feels Snowden isn't being pursued aggressively enough.
"The president is trying to limit diplomatic, and perhaps even political, damage. But the leadership of the American intelligence community has caused damage from these leaks so far - and it's very clear there's going to be some more here - so far have been significant and irreversible. That's a big deal."
I have no doubt the damage is "significant and irreversible" but I'm pretty sure Hayden and I would disagree on what's been damaged. If it's the reputation of these agencies, the administration and the US in general, then yes, the damage is significant and irreversible. If it's our safety/security/anti-terrorism efforts, then I have my doubts, especially as many of these leaks indicate the NSA's actions are nothing more than wholescale surveillance deployed whenever and wherever possible. There's very little that indicates a targeted approach to fighting terrorism.

Some may construe Hayden's point shaving as a gesture (albeit meaningless in his position) towards openness, but it simply follows the administration's attitude towards transparency: make big promises, deliver next to nothing, and when it comes to privacy vs. security, give the public an inch while the agencies roll up the miles.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Androgynous Cowherd, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 2:49am

    Every bit of data harvesting and surveillance makes everyone that much "safer," according to its claims.

    Have these NSA goons ever even heard of the concept of diminishing marginal returns?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jul 8th, 2013 @ 3:15am


    It got them a larger budget so it sure as hell made their funding safer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 3:35am

    He is correct that EU has the same kind of problems. Where he is eyerollingly spinning the story is on the surveillance of embassies of so-called "allies". It crosses several moral borders and if it is an accident as he seems to imply, it is still not ok that it can happen...

    Redding and de Kroes are understandably worked up about this and the trust EU had towards USA, when the parliament was halfway strongarmed by the commission and the council to accept the plane safety datasharing even after severe critique, has become a serious wound in the trust between the parliament, the undemocratic european institutions and USA. Sweden and UK saved USA from a legal investigation on data-protection by vetoing Germany and France, but had to concede a slower start to TAFTA negotiations and a political discussion of the surveillance issue. That is what Boncobama and Hayden refers to as discussion of balance. They are not talking to americans. They are not conceding anything to anyone except for accepting a discussion about balance from a political and philosofical point of view and behind double closed doors. Nothing significant is going to change because of this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Anonymous Howard (profile), Jul 8th, 2013 @ 3:38am


    He's describing the advantages of a police state. How charming.

    But I guess people still buy that shit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 3:38am

    Uses of Data

    Large scale data gathering has several uses:-
    1) Postmortem analysis of criminal and terrorist events.
    2) Attacking political opponents.
    3) Attacking, and arresting activists, and especially leaders.
    4) Identifying forming political groups, so that they can be disrupted or taken over.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 3:48am

    Order and stability must be maintained. Return to your homes, you are safe with us watching you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 4:13am

    Re: Uses of Data

    I think you may be able to find specific cases for each of the categories, but it is a bit too police state for US who use it for:

    1) Postmortem smearing by sale or less than accidental leaks of information to media!
    2) Use as blackmail against anyone and anything that may be of or form problematic opinions about the state.
    3) Targeting and assasination of people with other intestests than the state.
    4) Sale of secret information to high bidders. At some point it may be self-financing to spy!

    You see the difference? The police-state is completely screwing over individual rights, while the US system is the pennicle of modern democracy and human rights!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Grover (profile), Jul 8th, 2013 @ 4:29am

    Up in arms

    It's getting harder and harder to accept living on this planet - especially in light of recent revelations of the audacity of our federal government. I'm 60 years old now, so I've seen some chit, but I can remember when we, the American people, felt pride in being American - but not any more. We've elected some of the most vile, corrupt people to positions of authority in the past few decades that I dare say there are no - not a one - morally honest politicians left; they've been assimilated into a vast network of good 'ol boy cliques. Truly disgusting.

    I, personally, believe that it is coming to a point where we are in dire need of a total, political enema - an American Spring, if you will, that reestablishes the American people's rightful ownership of our country. Get rid of these asshats who think they have the right to do whatever they want - bring back the lynch mobs and throw them in prison, tarred and feathered; bring back the days where we held high standards and ran these turds out of town.

    Ok, rant over - I need aspirin now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 4:37am

    Political Debate:
    An argument where two or more parties tell us what they're not going to do, but they make us think they will.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jul 8th, 2013 @ 4:41am

    If these records are so important and only people with something to hide would object to them being out there... where is all of the data on the elected officials?
    I'd love to look at the meta data for this talking head to see which company he is negotiating a position with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    RyanNerd (profile), Jul 8th, 2013 @ 5:00am

    Fortunately for Snowden

    The talking heads of the media have the attention span of a gnat, and are more interesed in a plane wreck in San Fransico now than pretty much any thing else.
    So at least the demonizing of someone who should be hailed as hero and an exposer of government corruption has paused for a moment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Bengie, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 5:09am


    Can we get a death penalty law for the criminal actions that these people do?

    Someone in the position of power to protect the Constitution, but is instead found ignoring it, should pay the price. For these people, they should be following it to its very letters.

    If they want to change something, then get an amendment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Beta (profile), Jul 8th, 2013 @ 5:27am

    false dichotomy

    "The administration, various members of Congress and heads of security agencies all agree: there must be a balance between security and privacy."

    Somehow I'm not getting inured to this particular bit of newspeak; it still pisses me off.

    Security and privacy are not naturally opposed. Privacy is part of security. People who talk about the "balance" are asking us to surrender our civil rights in exchange for protection against monsters under the bed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 5:32am

    Why do I get the feeling that the NSA will use the Chewbacca defense in any debate if it actually engages in one?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Guardian, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 5:42am

    hitler would be proud of the nsa

    nuff said

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Joseph Ratliff (profile), Jul 8th, 2013 @ 5:43am

    Wow, I feel so honored to be part of a live rendition of "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley... thanks NSA /sarcasm

    Seriously though, as the years go by, it's seeming more and more like Huxley might be right on some of his points.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 5:53am

    surely the argument isn't who will be happier, it should be about the government doing what the people want. if the people want privacy and freedom more than security, that is what the government should be providing. those that are in charge of security will always shout loud against anything else, it's their job to ensure the safety of the people. the problem is, those in charge of security are still, or at least should be still answerable to the people! governments are voted into power by the people, to do their best for the people but to do what the people want, not want the governments want. anything else and you get dictatorships, police states or whatever. what you dont have is a democracy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 6:44am

    Re: false dichotomy

    Privacy is part of security. This becomes obvious when you think of a simple example: your credit card number, bank account passwords, and so on, are private. Losing privacy on these pieces of information obviously lessens your security.

    What is less obvious is that many apparently innocuous pieces of private data, when revealed, can lessen your security. Your movements, for example. Knowing where you usually go, at which times, and how you get there, which is something we usually keep somewhat private, can be very useful to someone who wants to rob you.

    You could argue that the ones who are getting access to that information are the "good guys". However, any mechanism the "good guys" can use to get the information can be used by the "bad guys". Not to mention that the "good guys" can become (or be replaced by) the "bad guys" in the future, if they haven't already.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Jesse (profile), Jul 8th, 2013 @ 7:07am

    Tisk Tisk America...If all the other countries became dictatorships, does that mean you would too?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    Wally (profile), Jul 8th, 2013 @ 7:15am

    Boston and Bhengazi

    US authorities were warned that something was going to happen at Behngazi and at Boston...and due to the NSA's overflow of collected domestic data, they couldn't confirm or search for any sufficient hints. Hilary Clinton went to the NSA and asked if they could confirm something was going to happen.

    After Benghazi, it took the current administration 10 months to make a press release on the matter based on what the media had already leaked. That was the only time I think I could ever be grateful for Wikileaks.

    So here's what I see happening:

    The Obama Administration is turning a blind eye to the activities of the NSA. It gives them the excuse to spy on the opposing political party, the Associated Press, and US citizens to make sure that we all conform to their worldly ontrinsic ideas. The IRS scandal showed an extreme bias that the US federal government had (the Salvation Army had to wait a year and a half for non-profit status). The blind eye is the icing on the cake.

    This may have started with Bush Jr., but the Obama administration took it and ran with it to deeper levels than just stopping it...mainly to monitor the press to make sure the Obama Administration looks good.

    The largest amount of contrast is that there is no gaffe Bush Jr. did that we didn't hear about from the AP and this includes FoxNews. So what we have here in the Obama Administration is cover up after coverup to save face.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Wally (profile), Jul 8th, 2013 @ 7:24am

    Re: Fortunately for Snowden

    Admittedly, how anyone survived that is nothing short of a miracle. Especially when the CFO of Facebook changed her flight plans to miss the flight that crashed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 7:37am

    "1. It's OK because everyone else is doing it.
    2. It's OK because technology has rendered borders and other geographic designations meaningless."

    Isn't this the same crappy logic that led to the arms race/Cold War? How'd that period of time work out for the world?

    Hopefully we can get past all this security/"cyberwar"/police-state crap and move on to being an open ad free world...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Alt0, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 7:41am

    Re: Penalty

    I do believe that the officials in Washington ARE following the Constitution to "the letters" as you put it.
    The thing is they take all the "letters" and re-arrange them to spell out what they want it to say first.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Alt0, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 7:51am

    Meaningless Borders

    "2. It's OK because technology has rendered borders and other geographic designations meaningless."
    So then Snowden should not need a "passport" to leave Russia and go anywhere he wants.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 9:30am

    About the data

    One area I've not heard mentioned, but would like to see discussed, is the use data that was actually captured.

    We're all sophisticated enough, here, to know that there is no intrinsic difference between data and meta-data. The label of data vs meta-data is dependent on context and perspective. The exact same information is data to one perspective and meta-data another. That being said, I'll use the term "information" from here on.

    The information the NSA captured included information about Organized Crime, Drug Cartels, Wall Street insider trading, Robo-signing by the big banks, child porn and so on. How was that information used? Were there prosecutions or investigations? Where was the "Justice" department and what were they doing?

    With reference to organized crime and the drug cartels, how many people were killed by their activities, which the NSA had evidence about before, during and after those murders?

    Also, there is reason to believe that the NSA collected information pertaining to ongoing court cases. Was that information supplied to defense lawyers? If not, isn't the government engaged in some sort of "spoliation" or suppression?

    Therefore, with the NSA sitting on information pertaining to all the above criminal activities, isn't the NSA engaged in "aiding and abetting" those crimes? What about state crimes?

    The NSA makes the unsupported claim of about fifty plots being "foiled". At what cost? How many thousands or tens of thousands of people were significantly injured or killed to protect the information about fifty plots?

    Where are the courts? Are not the courts supposed to be about justice and equity? How many nobodies have to die so that the somebodies (and their robo-judges) "feel" more secure?

    Are the "somebodies" more secure in reality? Here the NSA demands that the constitutional limitations (1st, 4th amendments etc) be disposed of. The implied threat is that if the NSA isn't given their way, then the NSA will let the Terrorist Boogey-Men "get" the important people. Exactly how safer are the important people, let alone the rest of us, when a security agency engages in this sort of behavior? It looks a lot like extortion!

    I would ask that the above points be discussed. It appears to me that there is much more to the NSA and it's behavior than "just" collecting the data. Especially if some court declares the collection legal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    TaCktiX (profile), Jul 8th, 2013 @ 11:11am

    Re: Up in arms

    I'm 35 years your junior and thinking the exact same things. All I worry is that the 2nd Revolution might not be as successful as the first one was.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    TaCktiX (profile), Jul 8th, 2013 @ 11:13am


    Him and Orwell have got to be viable energy sources now with the amount of rolling they're doing in their graves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    The Baker, Jul 8th, 2013 @ 11:27am

    Re: crappy logic

    "1. It's OK because everyone else is doing it."

    It is the same crappy logic that didn't work for me with a traffic ticket where I was at the end of a string of traffic doing 75 mph in a 55 zone. The cop stopped me ... not the first, third or seventh guy. I said that I was just following traffic, the officer said that the speed limit was 55, here is your ticket for $385, have a nice day.
    I .... We have to follow the letter of the law and deal with the consequences when we don't follow it. The same doesn't apply to the government of We the People. Sad.

    I do understand that this is a different situation, traffic laws are more about revenue generation than protecting the public just as FISA courts and secret laws are more about protecting power and allowing routing around existing public laws than protecting the public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), Jul 8th, 2013 @ 12:11pm

    Of course they don't welcome the debate.

    The first order of NSA business is to ensure the continued survival of the NSA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    Mike Raffety (profile), Jul 8th, 2013 @ 2:47pm


    No Secrets in America?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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