Former NSA Chief Claims Snowden Has 'Infinitely Weakened' Agency; Ignores Questions About Legality Of Backdoors And Exploits

from the almost-seems-like-he's-still-on-the-payroll dept

Former NSA head Michael Hayden continues to defend the agency from criticism even though he really doesn't have any stake in the outcome. Maybe an agency man is always an agency man, even after they've left for more lucrative private-sector positions. Whatever the reason, Hayden hasn't backed down on any of his assertions, even as more evidence mounts that the agency has seriously overstepped its boundaries.

Hayden was interviewed this past weekend on Face the Nation. We covered his claim that Snowden is a "traitor" earlier, a claim based on the press' misrepresentation of Snowden's letters to Germany and Brazil seeking asylum. [Full transcript here, needlessly marred by an autoplay video.] The usual talking points were deployed, but despite going head-to-head with an interviewer, Hayden still cherry-picked what he would actually respond to.

Interviewer Major Garrett kicked things off by discussing the two recent court decisions on the Section 215 collections, which came to opposite conclusions on the constitutionality of bulk metadata collection. Garrett asked Hayden if relying on a 35-year-old court decision (Smith v. Maryland) is appropriate, considering how much communication technology has changed. According to Hayden, there's no question about whether that case is relevant. It's simply what gives the NSA the permission to gather these records. The NSA (along with the FBI and countless law enforcement agencies) has used this ruling for more than three decades and it's not going to stop now, no matter what one federal judge has said.

Judge Leon ignored precedent. He ignored Smith v. Maryland, the case that you cited. He ignored that 15 FISA judges on over 30 occasions have upheld the lawfulness of this. And then judge Pauley, in the Southern District of New York, within a week issued another warning saying -- or another decision -- saying that this was inherently constitutional. And judge Pauley relied on precedent. Judge Leon relied on exclamation points throughout his judgment, not precedent.
Pauley may have relied on precedent (as far as Smith v. Maryland was written), but he also relied wholly on the government's trustworthiness and wrote a largely unskeptical opinion that embraced every half-truth or flat-out lie delivered by the NSA in defense of the Section 215 program.

Next, Garrett asked this question about some of the more "gray area" collections the NSA performs:
Now it's also been disclosed through Edward Snowden's leaks that the NSA tapped fiber optic cables abroad to siphon data, circumvented or cracked encryption codes and covertly inserted weaknesses into coding mechanisms. Now, you're telling me all of that is done in accordance with the Constitution and raises no fourth amendment concerns?
Hayden chose to ignore the majority of the question in order to defend the agency.
As long as it's done overseas against people not protected by the fourth amendment to the Constitution, Major, the Constitution doesn't enter into the conversation.
Using overseas cables to grab domestic communications is the agency's way of circumventing the Constitution to grab what it believes it should rightfully have access to. According to the agency, it's perfectly legal to spy on every other citizen in the world. After all, if they wanted privacy, they should have become American citizens, right?

But Hayden completely sidesteps Garrett's question about backdoors, exploits and compromised hardware and broken encryption. The agency can't defend these actions in terms of legality or constitutionality, so its defenders just ignore the questions, or talk around them. Phrases like "fighting terrorism" or "making the US more secure" are offered up instead of actual answers.

Hayden went on to claim Snowden's leaks have "infinitely weakened" the NSA. Without a doubt, the leaks have had a negative effect on the agency's intelligence gathering. But it's had a much larger impact on the agency's reputation -- and the US government's. The NSA has so thoroughly compromised encryption, computer hardware and communications technology that a majority of what has been leaked will have a very minimal effect on the NSA's intelligence gathering. Important, high-value targets aren't gliding across the visible surface of the internet or utilizing static IP addresses and phone numbers. Everyone knows about the Section 215 program now, but it's hardly resulted in millions of people dropping their phone service.

The fears the agency claims to have about exposed methods are just a cheap ploy to gather support and play the victim. The deeper, nastier stuff the agency does has yet to be exposed. We got a taste of the NSA's capabilities for installing persistent exploits in consumer and enterprise-level electronics -- and that info, as frightening as it was (i.e., iOS devices can be compromised with a 100% success rate) was a half-decade out of date. What it can do now is certainly even more incredible.

If anything, Snowden's revelations to this point will have done little more than help excise outdated surveillance programs that were long on data collection but short on value. The NSA (and its former leaders) should show a bit of appreciation for this inadvertent push towards working smarter, not harder.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Dec 31st, 2013 @ 2:11pm

    As the NSA has weakened our trust in the system and our 'rights' I think turn about is fairplay.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2013 @ 2:12pm

    ...needlessly marred by an autoplay video.

    Clap, clap, clap. More of that please. There is someone that hates that I love to see get a little of his own in return.

    The NSA has been caught with its' hands in the cookie jar. It may worm and squirm but it can not justify all it is doing. So it's only defense is to ignore that it can't defend and try to divert the unwelcome attention it is getting. No one would be bitching at all, were the NSA doing what the public expected of it. This is why Wyden was saying that the American public was going to be pissed when it found out and rightfully so it is.

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

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2013 @ 2:22pm

    As long as it's done overseas against people not protected by the fourth amendment to the Constitution, Major, the Constitution doesn't enter into the conversation.

    That is like saying :-

    As long as they are not Christians it is all right to enslave them.

    He exhibits the attitude that has caused the USA to be referred to as the great Satan, that is the attitude that only US citizens have rights.

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

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2013 @ 2:48pm

    Given what they did to Encryption

    I'd say they deserve an infinite weakening.

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2013 @ 2:55pm


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

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2013 @ 3:31pm

    I guess I don't mind anymore... NSA can do what it wants

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

  7. icon
    RadialSkid (profile), Dec 31st, 2013 @ 3:33pm


    It definitely proves he has no valid concept of the Constitution. The rights enshrined in the Constitution are said to be recognized as's the American view that all people all over the world have those rights, not just Americans or people on American soil.

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

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2013 @ 4:54pm

    Resistance is futile. Join the Bor-err, I mean, NSA.

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

  9. icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), Dec 31st, 2013 @ 5:11pm

    Dividing by Infinity

    Yet another blatant lie. The last I knew, when one divides by infinity, the result is 0. Yet the NSA still seems to be going strong...

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

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 1st, 2014 @ 4:41am

    he's very good at this job. he manages to nicely avoid the most important questions and focus on the bits that he wants only. spoken like a true lying politician!! i suppose that will be the next move! he'll fall in nicely with the qualifications he's got!!

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 1st, 2014 @ 8:56am

    Kuddos to Snowden then. Anything that weakens the NSA and the United States federal government will ultimate help return our country to one of freedom and prosperity.

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

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 1st, 2014 @ 6:19pm


    As long as it doesnt hurt people

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

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 2nd, 2014 @ 9:13am

    Snowden is a traitor and should be hanged

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 1:38pm


    Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

    This is what the Constitution says. Tell me, to what enemy did Snowden give aid and comfort, or to whom did he adhere? Pointing out government wrongdoings and corruption is not treason.

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

  15. identicon
    j, Jul 4th, 2014 @ 10:22pm

    Snowmans a Traiter 4 sure

    Giving countries that are far more terrible then us and that also back terrorist countries ammunition and intelligence to then steal company plans and trade marks and could use new tech ideas against us. possibley losing potential alliances, with China sea and middle east we need all we can get. Loss of stealth and camo of our intelligence..on and on .. We cant know some things as a public, things need to be secret. If we didnt have the NSA and CiA in our corner we would all be doomed. Snow should be hung and is an idiot for going to sensative countries where were trying to prevent WW3.. I would like to thank our intelligence community for there sacrifice, which is also secret......

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

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